Student lobbyists lean on MPPs directly, demanding tuition fix

Students from U of T groups APUS, SAC, ECSU, SCSU and Governing Council have joined together and directly lobbied their first politicians last week. The coalition hopes to tackle the one issue that hits students the hardest: tuition.

The “Government Relations Committee,” as it’s come to be called, was founded by Shaila Kibria, a student governor on U of T’s Governing Council. The committee has contacted and invited all 108 Ontario MPPs at Queen’s Park to meet and discuss the concerns of students on current issues regarding tuition: the increase and de-regulation of fees; loan and grant systems; and tuition policies for international students. While 108 MPP’s have been contacted over the last three weeks, only 21 of them have responded

Kibria commended these MPPs for “going through the trouble to meet us and doing their job to listen to their constituents.”

The idea for the committee was initiated by Kibria because of the frustration she felt as a student leader on GC having to vote for increased incidental fees every year (these are the fees for athletics, the health centre, student organizations, and other uses).

After being the only one to vote against increasing the fees, Kibria decided that it was time for students to get directly involved in lobbying the government instead of leaving it solely to university administration. This idea gained further momentum after U of T joined the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) in 2002.

Student leaders from U of T are now meeting with politicians as part of a broader campaign organized by the CFS, where students from Ryerson, George Brown College, Guelph and 29 other student unions are also meeting with their local MPPs.

The meetings organized by the Government Relations Committee are coming at a time when post-secondary funding is a hot topic in politics and in the press. This is in part due to the review on post-secondary education which is currently being conducted by former Ontario premier Bob Rae. Students, university administrators, and government officials are all awaiting the report and the recommendations of the so-called “Rae Review.” The buzz is why Kibria felt now was the time to be meeting with provincial decision-makers.

“A success would be if progressive recommendations are implemented by the Liberals, like freezing or reducing tuition fees, and putting more funding into post-secondary education,” she said, “and reject regressive recommendations, like deregulating tuition or bringing in income-contingent loan repayment schemes.”

Kibria and her committee have already met with two of the 21 MPPs, David Zimmer, member for Willowdale, and Donna Cansfield from Etobicoke Center. They plan to meet the remaining 19 in a whirlwind of meetings throughout October.

Despite Ontario’s two-year tuition freeze-which is in its last year-both MPPs said they sympathized with the difficulties students face, like increasing costs after de-regulation and the burden of increasing debt.

“What could be worse than starting your life with a $40,000 debt?” Cansfield asked.

Both MPPs agreed to present a petition to the legislature which contains 250 signatures and protests raising tuition fees and requests an injection of $3 billion into post-secondary education. They also promised to take the students’ concerns to Queen’s Park.

Kibria said her ultimate goal is to make the government realize “that funding accessible education is the most important investment that can be made for Ontario’s future.”

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