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Is Ford “for the students”?

Contributors debate the announced changes to tuition, funding, student fees frameworks

Is Ford “for the students”?

On January 17, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative (PC) Ontario government announced changes to postsecondary education, which include lower domestic tuition, Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) reforms, and an opt-out option for ancillary fees. This has sparked conversation about the nature of affordable education and student democracy on university and college campuses. Below, five students answer whether or not these changes are, as the PCs claim, “for the students.” 

No: tuition and OSAP cuts altogether reflect a cynical move 

Ford is trying to cheat the system and pull the wool over students’ eyes. Good education costs money and U of T students — domestic ones, at least — have it pretty good as is. Although tuition is still expensive, we’re paying pennies compared to our southern neighbours. 

Ford’s move has jeopardized the financial stability of universities as well. According to HuffPost, mammoth credit rating agency Moody’s released a report on Monday cautioning the Ontario government about the negative implications of such a random and drastic tuition slash. Although no university’s credit rating has been downgraded yet, a senior credit officer with Moody’s said he’ll be watching Ontario universities closely. 

The more upsetting part of the tuition slash is that it’s simply a cheap cover for Ford’s OSAP cuts. It’s a cynical and shifty move by Ford, and it makes students feel as if they’re being scammed and tricked. The recent protests prove this sentiment. 

Another potential implication of this move is that it could divide students along lines of income. Students who no longer are eligible for OSAP — or who are seeing their benefits reduced — may see themselves at odds with those who are still eligible for the assistance and may become resentful because of it. 

A more modest tuition cut, by itself, would have benefitted students and the province at large. But when you step back and see the cynicism of the move in its entire context, you realize something: cheaper is not always better. 

Ted Fraser is a third-year International Relations student at Victoria College.

Yes: the tuition cut saves students money and is the responsible choice 

When I was a high school freshman, the prospect of postsecondary education seemed like a bright one. U of T, our esteemed, multi-billion-dollar institution especially promised to be a place for learning and innovation. However, there was one clear obstacle: its cost. Many students coming from lower or middle-income families, like myself, believe that the cost of university tuition is excessive. 

It is for this reason that savings in terms of tuition cuts should be welcomed. When I consider the fees at U of T, I see tuition prices were previously set to rise three per cent for the 2018–2019 academic year. This means that many students, including myself, would have potentially paid hundreds more dollars in high-cost tuition for every year that we pursued our degrees. Thousands more dollars go into residency and textbooks. Ford’s reduction of tuition by 10 per cent province-wide counters these costs and alleviates financial pressure on families like mine. 

The money we save can be invested instead into books, school materials, and living expenses for the upscale price tags of mediocre Toronto condos. Saving students’ money is the right, responsible choice, and one that invests in the financial stability of our future workforce.
The Ford government has received considerable criticism for introducing more loans over grants in the OSAP structure, a practice previously executed under provincial governments prior to Kathleen Wynne. The truth is that this model is structured on financial responsibility. Although student debt is a reality for most of us, the deficit that our province battles is enormous, to say the least. The shares of a multi-billion-dollar deficit are on the heads of every Ontarian. 

Tackling the provincial debt and managing the financial accessibility of postsecondary education are not mutually exclusive. The Ford government has made the funds available to students like myself to continue to pursue our postsecondary education. 

Andrea Chiappetta is a second-year Political Science, American Studies, and History student at Woodsworth College.

No: Ford’s opt-out model for student fees is an attack on student life

Social events, safe spaces, quality reporting, and community development: these are only some of the services provided by student-led and student-funded campus groups. But Ford’s plan to make “non-essential” fees optional means that many of these groups may lose their funding. His government argues that this change will let students choose what is “essential” to our university experience. But it is actually an attack on student life that refuses to acknowledge that campus groups are a necessity, not a luxury. 

Since my first year at U of T, I have been involved with both my residence and college council, two student-run publications, and a couple of clubs. I know so many dedicated people who pour their hearts into these campus groups and make a difference in their communities. I believe the existence of campus groups gives students the power to shape our own experiences at U of T. 

Student-run media outlets create platforms where we can voice our opinions and criticisms of events both in and out of the university. Student groups provide us with the space to organize ourselves and engage with our surroundings according to our own interests. Furthermore, they allow student leaders and student bodies to forge strong community networks and a sense of solidarity in what can feel like an ocean of people here at U of T. In other words, the services that are paid for by student fees are far from just ‘optional,’ and making them so will be devastating to the health and vibrancy of life on campus.

It is in the university’s power to decide if any student fees besides those related to health and athletics are “essential.” As students, we owe it to ourselves to push the administration and protect the spaces of agency that campus groups carve out for us. 

Michelle Zhang is a second-year Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies, Urban Studies, and Political Science student at Innis College. 

Yes: the opt-out model for student fees strengthens democracy 

I first clarify that I believe that student loans should be forgiven and postsecondary education should be freely available without financial barriers to access, as education is arguably the greatest long-term investment.

Having said that, in lieu of such far-sighted societal investment, I understand what it means to be in a weak financial position, where paying an extra $500–2,000 per year for non-essential and non-tuition fees can be a struggle. Coupled with some of the highest postsecondary tuition fees in all of Canada, and further confounded by the burden of the highest national cost of living, students in Toronto are at even greater financial risk.

Critics like Nour Alideeb, the Canadian Federation of Students—Ontario chairperson, suggested, among other things, that reforms to student fees are an attack against democratically elected student unions. Such criticism should be disregarded as fear-mongering.

Contrary to their fears, the reforms are part of a broader democratization of tuition fees to re-enable and empower people to take control of decisions with respect to their financial resources.

The current forced fee system shares an uncanny resemblance to the sort of negative-option billing ruled illegal by both federal and provincial governments. It is not acceptable for anyone to feel entitled to dictate and override another person’s individual rights with respect to access and management of their own financial resources.

Elected or not, it’s morally wrong to trojan-horse individual student accounts and usurp another’s financial resources for services that should, in reality, be paid for by actual end users and not by speculated potential users.

The greatest indicator of the worth of some service or product is its position in a free market predicated on choice. For instance, take a look at the success of organic and fair trade products. Students who bike to campus can choose to pay for Bikechain and others can, instead, focus their own money on transit passes. We vote with our dollars and that’s how it should be. 

Oscar Starschild is a second-year Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science student at Woodsworth College.

No: The student fees opt-out model could further divide the Ontario student movement

There is much concern that allowing students to opt out of student fees will result in significant funding decreases for services that student unions provide. Such decreases can be expected, given the low levels of engagement in student unions, and particularly in the University of Toronto Students’ Union, where voter turnouts of less than 20 per cent are common. If over 80 per cent of students represented by a student union do not vote in the annual elections, take part in its activities, or rely on its services, there is little to keep them from remaining members if they have the opportunity to keep their student fees. 

However, funding decreases would limit student unions’ ability to advocate for a better quality of education against much wealthier university administrations and governments. If enough students opt out, student unions would no longer be able to provide services or would have to drastically increase their levies, which would, in turn, prompt more students to leave. Student union staff may have to be laid off and some student unions may even collapse.

While the students who opt out would have a little more money, they would no longer be protected by student unions. It would be much easier for university administrations to raise their tuition fees as opposed to those of unionized students. 

Perhaps, if non-unionized students would be able to make their own separate student unions, there could be hope. This is especially because students enduring abuse and corruption under unions that have questionable or broken democratic systems, like the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, may be able to separate and form better representative organizations. 

However, not only would it be difficult to convince universities to acknowledge multiple unions of the same student demographics, but such fragmentation would likely make it harder for students to organize collectively.

Justin Patrick is a first-year master’s student in Political Science. He was recently elected as the Internal Commissioner of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union.

Canada’s racism: I feel scared and sad

Re: “White nationalist posters found around UTSG”

Canada’s racism: I feel scared and sad

I am a first-generation Canadian citizen. I have always thought that, on the question of multiculturalism, Canadians were at a more respectable level than the Americans. I used to think that racism was not something that was prevalent in Canada, because I didn’t explicitly witness it.

However, recent aberrations such as these white nationalist posters around UTSG have made me rethink my conception of Canada as a whole. Sometimes, I feel scared to see such visceral dislike of all people who are not white.

Sometimes, I feel sad for those responsible for the posters. They fail to see that they are immigrants, just like the people they abhor, and are therefore also not entitled to Canada. The only ones who can truly claim this land are Indigenous peoples.

Someone pointed out to me that these posters are placed around to draw media coverage and attention to these organizations, which in turn helps to recruit like-minded thinkers. This makes for a complicated picture. On the one hand, we should bring attention to these incidents in order to identify the existence of explicit racism, but on the other hand, we risk inadvertently strengthening racist causes.

This incident is especially saddening because U of T, and Toronto more broadly, is so multiculturally rich that I had thought that most, if not all, people here would not agree with such an ideology. And yet, here we are. There are people who feel emboldened enough to post these blatantly racist posters to stir people’s emotions and play with their notion of being Canadian.

I appreciate that University of Toronto Students’ Union representatives have spoken out against this incident, but I don’t know what more can be done about it. Freedom of speech exists in Canada and some may not consider the posters to be hate speech. For now, we can only be aware of these incidents and not let them shake us.

We have all worked hard to be here. No one should feel superior or inferior to any ethnicity, race, religion, or otherwise in Canada. This is what multiculturalism means: respect and acceptance for all.

Ateeqa Arain is a first-year Master of Education student at OISE.

Equitable education starts from the bottom

Combatting the weight of inaccessibility in our public school system

Equitable education starts from the bottom

Following Premier Doug Ford’s recent announcements of changes to the tuition, funding, and student fees frameworks for domestic postsecondary students, there has been considerable concern raised about the reduced accessibility of universities and colleges.

The discussion about equitable education, however, must start from the bottom. Namely, whether all students in the public school system even have access to decent education, prior to attending university or college, in the first place. This is a significant question with which educators continue to grapple today.

The socioeconomic factor

Consider that students from a low socioeconomic area are more likely to attend the schools within their neighbourhood, as opposed to a higher socioeconomic area, which have more funding available to them. Whereas schools in the former area are not able to raise the funds they need to cover all resources necessary for students’ learning, schools in the latter area are able to hold fundraisers to support requests that are not met by the government.

Ultimately, funding affects performance. Globe and Mail reporters Caroline Alphonso and Tavia Grant examined the results of Education Quality and Accountability Office scores and confirmed a correlation between test scores and the location of students’ schools. They found that low-income students are more likely to fail standardized reading, writing, and math tests because their schools are unable to provide the necessary programs to support students, and students are less likely to have support at home due to their parents’ low socioeconomic status.

In Ontario, the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) was introduced in 1998 to support schools with high proportions of low-income students by funding intervention and guidance programs, withdrawals for individual support, and parental and community engagement programs. However, over the years, funding has declined.

Initially, 100 per cent of the funding from the LOG was allocated to school boards according to the percentage of at-risk students from low socioeconomic areas. But by 2018, the proportion had decreased to 47 per cent.

People for Education, an independent, non-partisan Canadian organization created to support and revolutionize public education, recommends that the Ontario government develop a new Equity in Education Grant. The grant would support programs in schools to help mitigate socioeconomic factors affecting students’ learning.

The long-term concern is that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who are not supported by the system are less likely to attend postsecondary institutions. As a recent report from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario on gaps in postsecondary education participation concluded, close to 45 per cent of Canadian-born students living in lower-income neighbourhoods do not pursue postsecondary education.

The percentage is lower among students from high-income neighbourhoods. Evidently, this gap must be closed if students of all income backgrounds are to have equal opportunities in our education system.

The minority experience

Education materials used in classrooms to support students’ learning does not adequately reflect the backgrounds and experiences of all students, given Canada’s image as a multicultural society. For example, science textbooks used by students generally display images of European people to illustrate human anatomy, and reading often provides context and ideas. Students from minority backgrounds do not see themselves in the material they learn. Textbooks also often present a stereotypical and incorrect understanding of ethnic minorities and Indigenous peoples.

To address this, educators should draw from a pool of knowledge that reflects the diverse range of cultures that are present in our society. For example, they could discuss knowledge and perspectives from Indigenous peoples regarding science and medicine.

Educators can also bring in experts from various cultures to help students grasp a globally-informed worldview. For instance, when learning about Eid or Rosh Hashanah, people from related cultures can be brought into the classroom to introduce authentic sources of knowledge.

Ultimately, educators should aim to challenge the biases and stereotypes present in curricula through discussion and critical thinking — not perpetuate them. Many of these issues of representation continue in postsecondary education, where minority students do not relate to presentations of knowledge in their classrooms. For instance, images of bodies in North American medical textbooks tend to underrepresent skin tones.

Performance over learning

Barriers do not only exist in the form of class or race. Too often, outcomes in the form of test scores are considered more important than the actual process of understanding key concepts. Due to the wide range of learning styles and abilities present in a classroom, teachers must be able to support all students as holistically as possible.

A proven teaching strategy is to use inquiry-based learning, which revolves around student observations. This includes solving problems or finding answers to questions through open-ended investigations. It is important to have lessons based on inquiry and to focus on processes that nurture students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

U of T should take leadership

If we are to accept that Canada is a multicultural society, equity is not a matter of just recognizing the diverse backgrounds and abilities of students, but incorporating and learning from all that diversity has to offer. University students should understand diversity through the lens of equity — that no one who is different should be left behind, but rather, supported.

By eliminating barriers within the public school system, the number and diversity of students entering postsecondary education will inevitably improve. The more educated and skilled youth are, the more society, in turn, will benefit. Governments and school boards must recognize this reality as they craft educational policy.

U of T is in a unique position to lead change in the context of equitable education. It claims to be a world-renowned, research-driven institution and would benefit from a move toward using diverse learning materials that support students in making connections with their learning.

The university should also broaden the ‘how’ of learning and reform the field of education so that students are prepared for the real world. The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in particular has conducted research on poverty and education, and the impact of various interventions in reducing educational inequality as well as increasing students’ access to higher education. U of T should centre OISE as a leader in the development of support systems to help mitigate the effects of inequity that students face in the public education system.

Ateeqa Arain is a first-year Master of Education student at OISE.