From organizing province-wide protests to talks of a student strike, student groups and unions are mobilizing in response to the changes to postsecondary education funding announced by the Ford government last month. The Varsity took a look into what student groups are doing to protest the changes and what they hope to accomplish.
A majority of groups are rallying against the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which would give students the option to opt-out of “non-essential” incidental fees and levies. The changes also include sweeping alterations to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and a 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) all signed an open letter to the Ford government, along with 75 other student unions from across the country, condemning the changes to postsecondary education and specifically asking for the reversal of the SCI.
The UTSU launched its #UTSUwithU campaign last week in an effort to lobby government officials and university administrators, and the union has also confirmed that it has met with the university to discuss how U of T plans to respond to these changes.
In a statement released last week, the UTGSU committed to working with “coalition and campus partners to advocate for accessible post-secondary education for all students.”
The UTGSU executive, in an email to The Varsity, confirmed that it is also in talks with other student groups to organize meetings with U of T administrators.
The Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) executive wrote to The Varsity, “We are working with our members, student unions, clubs, societies and associations across all three campuses to fight back against these cuts.”
APUS executives particularly expressed concerns regarding the cuts to OSAP and the SCI and their impact on marginalized students and student groups that provide “support, services and community.”
The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) confirmed that it is in discussions with other student groups on how to move forward and affirmed that OPIRG stands in solidarity with other levy groups.
“OPIRG is quite disturbed and condemns the [government’s] move to unilaterally invalidate and overrule the choices students have already made through democratic votes and processes to implement the levies currently in existence and the ways in which this provincial legislation now strips students [of] power to make their voices heard,” representatives wrote.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902 (CUPE 3902), the labour union that represents sessional lecturers and teaching assistants at U of T, has also established a presence at multiple rallies and protests since the Ford government’s announcement. Inviting members to sign a petition to reverse the cuts, CUPE 3902 is also encouraging members to write to their MPPs about these changes.
“We are looking into organizing townhalls and meetings with other leaders on campus and in Toronto so that we can continue to present a united front and to create a plan for loud, disruptive organizing that shows that Ontario residents do not accept these cuts and changes that will only saddle students and workers with more debt and worse working conditions.”
Students for Ontario, a group formed in response to the provincial government’s policy, organized a province-wide march on February 4 and has also provided resources to students on how to to contact their local MPP. The group also confirmed with The Varsity that it will continue to organize protests and marches, coordinating with other groups in the coming weeks and months.
On the topic of a student strike, Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) Chairperson Nour Alideeb said that “anything is possible,” but she wants to see any kind of movement come directly from the federation’s member student unions. Alideeb is currently examining the 2012 Québec student strike to identify potential unforeseen consequences of a similar strike in Ontario.
Alideeb also believes that the SCI will not be the end of the CFS–O, further saying that changes to the organization will depend on member unions and how those members wish to allocate funds.