The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spent November 14–17 in Ottawa, lobbying with six other student unions from across Canada on student issues that fall under federal jurisdiction. Student leaders from the U15, which is a group of Canadian research universities, focused primarily on issues pertaining to undergraduate research funding and Indigenous access to post-secondary education.
“ADVOCAN is a loose coalition of some of the top undergraduate research universities in Canada [that have] come together to focus on undergraduate student needs,” said Jasmine Wong Denike, President of the UTSU. The group was founded last year, when it focused on “youth unemployment/unpaid internships, international students, and the Canada Student Loans Program,” Denike told The Varsity.
ADVOCAN consists of student unions from universities that are part of the U15. Unlike the Canadian Federation of Students or the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, ADVOCAN has no membership fee or memorandum of agreement and its formal structure is still under development.
“I can confidently say that our asks were treated with a lot of respect and possibility. We started our week with a little over 30 meetings, and had over 60 scheduled by the end of it — between 9 people, that meant we had at least 15 meetings per delegate,” said Denike.
ADVOCAN’s 2016 platform had three areas of interest addressed in its Tri-Council agencies: increased funding, data collection, and increased student opportunity.
The group lobbied the federal government to lift the 2 per cent cap on the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) and for an additional $50 million to be provided to the PSSSP per year, as promised by the 2015 federal Liberal Party platform. This measure was not included in the most recent federal budget.
ADVOCAN argued that the 2 per cent cap on the PSSSP has hampered the program’s ability to increase accessibility to post-secondary education for Indigenous students.
ADVOCAN recommended that Ottawa increase targeted undergraduate funding in all three Tri-Council agencies. ADVOCAN also requested that Ottawa “increase data collection on these targeted Tri-Council funding opportunities for undergraduate students, as well as the current numbers of undergraduate student trainees involved in Tri-Council-funded faculty research proposals.”
These suggested measures are designed to encourage undergraduate participation in research, through, among other avenues, increased funding for small on-campus initiatives. ADVOCAN specifically requested more targeted undergraduate funding by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and an increase in existing undergraduate funding by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).
Additionally, ADVOCAN raised concerns that accessible information regarding undergraduate opportunities and funding offered by the SSHRC and CIHR is currently limited.
Conversely, ADVOCAN notes, NSERC published ample information publicly between 2001–2011.
In light of this, ADVOCAN recommends that SSHRC and CIHR adopt the NSERC model of data collection, and that NSERC make their data available after 2011.
“It has been an incredibly humbling experience advocating alongside eight other incredible student leaders. We want to thank everyone who met with us—from members of parliament, policy advisors, staffers, and everything in between,” said Denike. “We’re looking forward to seeing the developments that will come out of our incredibly productive meetings.”