Seventy-five student unions across Canada have signed an open letter to Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) Merrilee Fullerton condemning the government’s recent changes to postsecondary education funding.
The letter, first released by Carleton University’s student newspaper The Charlatan on January 29, calls on Ford and Fullerton to reverse the decision mandating Ontario universities to develop an “opt-out” system for “non-essential” student fees. It also calls the changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program “disappointing” and a “firm step backwards.”
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) are among the signatories.
The letter compares the government’s decision to implement an opt-out option on incidental fees — a policy that Fullerton labelled the “Student Choice Initiative” — as similar to if taxpayers were allowed to opt out of paying for services like a police force and public libraries.
The student unions write that the Student Choice Initiative puts on-campus services funded by incidental fees at risk, specifically services such as “health and dental plans, peer-to-peer support, on-campus press, support services like food banks and more.”
“Students will be less safe, more vulnerable to failure and less able to gain the skills and work-related experience they’ll need to find jobs after graduation.”
The unions also expressed concern about how the Student Choice Initiative would affect mental health and sexual assault support services, as well as on-campus jobs.
The letter ends with the student unions calling on the Ford government to reverse the mandate and to consult with student associations, labour unions, and institutions on how the initiative will create a less prepared workforce and one “saddled with debt.”
“By making postsecondary less accessible to middle and low-income families, and by jeopardizing student experience on campus, your government is actively standing in the way of growing that workforce.”
UTSU President Anne Boucher confirmed to The Varsity that the UTSU had joined with the other Canadian student unions in the letter.
“We wanted to show a level of solidarity with the other groups across Ontario,” wrote Boucher.
The University of British Columbia’s Alma Mater Society, the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, and the University of New Brunswick Student Union are also among the student associations that signed the letter.
The Varsity has reached out to the UTMSU and the UTGSU for comment.