The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is calling for a national day of action on November 2, as part of its Fight the Fees! campaign, which calls for universal, public post secondary education.
“Fight the Fees is part of a national campaign strategy adopted by Canada’s Student Movement towards a national day of action on November 2nd,” CFS National Chairperson Bilan Arte told The Varsity. “The campaigns objective’s are to educate, agitate, and mobilize students across Canada to achieve universal, public post secondary education in our country.”
Currently, Ontario students, including University of Toronto students, pay some of the highest tuition fees in the country. The CFS reports that tuition fees in Ontario have increased five percent annually on average. The CFS intends to put pressure on the provincial and federal governments with this campaign.
The current provincial government tuition cap framework allows tuition to go up three to five percent annually for domestic undergraduate students in most programs of study. There is no cap for the amount an institution is allowed to raise tuition for international students.
While many students can apply for loans, they may still face massive amounts of student debt after graduating. Accumulated debt after graduation is now estimated at an average of $37,000 for a student enroled in a four-year program.
The current tuition cap framework expires in 2017, which is why the CFS believes now is the best time to take action.
Free tuition is not a new idea, nor is it exclusive to Canada. Many countries have already opted for free or substantially subsidized tuition plans including Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and France.
“Our campaign believes that access to university or college should be guaranteed and accessible to all, no matter how much money they or their families make, or which region of Canada they are from or happen to live in,” explained Arte.
“Canada is a wealthy country, and if our provincial and federal governments made it a priority to fund a universal system of post secondary education in this country, as exists in countless examples around of the world of countries with free education, this too could be a reality in Canada.”
However, not all student leaders are convinced by this campaign.
University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President, Internal & Services Mathias Memmel, said that the union sent a letter to the CFS criticizing Fight the Fees! campaign.
According to the letter, the UTSU feels that the campaign does not adequately address the concern of Ontario’s looming tuition fee cap framework expiry.
“We would prefer that the CFS focus on the Tuition Fee Framework as opposed to on another non-specific campaign for the abolition of tuition fees,” reads a portion of the letter.
“In this respect, Fight the Fees seems to favour restating CFS policy over advancing the interests of the students paying the highest fees in the most expensive city in the province.”
Memmel told The Varsity that the union is not opposed to participating in the CFS’s campaign: “The point of the letter was just to make clear to the CFS that, because of the shortcomings of Fight the Fees, we’ll also be running our own campaign, which will be our first priority.”
“The CFS always does a good job of making students aware of what’s happening to their fees, but because there’s so much distance between what the CFS is saying and what the government is considering, very little actually happens,” he continued.
“Barrier-free education is the goal of the movement, and we want to further that goal by pursuing narrower, policy-based goals—we want things to get tangibly better for students, even if only slightly at first.”
When asked about the UTSU’s criticism of the campaign, Arte responded by explaining that every student in Canada should have the right to go to school.
“As we face this crisis, now is the time for a united student movement that will take action for a cause that ensures that all in our communities will have the opportunity and guaranteed right to get an education,” she said. “I hope that executives at the University of Toronto Students’ Union will stand with us in that fight, and defend education for all on November 2.”