Earlier this year, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced the controversial Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which will give students the option to opt out of incidental, “non-essential” fees. These may include fees that go toward student unions, clubs and societies, and campus newspapers. While the Ford government highlights the importance of providing students with choice, this policy puts many student services into jeopardy — .
Unfortunately, students may underestimate the importance of student unions, such as the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The UTMSU provides services and a single voice for UTM students in fighting for their interests independently from the university. The prospect of reduced fees means that the union may not be able to effectively function and advocate for change.
UTM students should remember that it is through UTMSU advocacy that they enjoy many important and popular services. For example, the U-Pass is a necessity for many students to affordably commute. Such a privilege does not come out of thin air — it is the outcome of a strong willingness from the UTMSU to fight for its students.
While the government has assured that existing transit passes will not be affected by the SCI, plans for improved passes in the future — such as a GTA-wide pass, which the UTMSU is looking into — will likely be out of reach.
The university administration does not always see student interests as a top priority, but the union exists to ensure that students are heard. The most recent example of this is the , which has given students the option of retaking a course and having only the second grade included in their GPA. According to the UTMSU, it had been pushing the policy for seven years. Clearly, getting the university to accommodate administrative changes is not an easy feat to accomplish.
The UTMSU has also been dedicated to tackling food issues on campus. have been a regular occurrence for the past two years. Similarly, the Food Centre, which provides non-perishable items to students free of charge, is another important student-driven measure that is funded by a $0.50 levy. In 2015, The Medium reported that the centre’s usage had increased drastically from the previous year.
The UTMSU has also declared its struggle against rising food prices on campus. Since Chartwells has a monopoly over campus food, it is arduous to pursue price reductions. The UTMSU may be committed to this fight; however, it is of no avail if its own survival is in peril.
The UTMSU also supplies a huge amount of funding for clubs and student societies, which offer students the opportunity to meet like-minded people, form a sense of community and belonging, and engage in activities of interest. That is what I have gained from my involvement with the Sociology and Criminology Society. The SCI puts club funding in serious jeopardy. Limiting student clubs takes away many opportunities for campus experience outside the classroom.
The SCI also threatens the student media. Student media crucially hold the university and student governments accountable, keep students informed about campus issues, and provide a platform for free and diverse expression. Campus media also endow students with invaluable journalism experience. I have spoken to UTM alumni who have cited their experiences at The Medium as one of the highlights of their university careers. I’ve been involved with both The Medium and The Varsity, and I find my experience with campus journalism irreplaceable.
Another aspect of Ford’s announced postsecondary changes is the 10 per cent domestic tuition cut. Though it appears to benefit students, it will not come with increased university funding. This means that university revenues will take a hit. In response, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull next year as compensation. If implemented, UTM’s international student population will increase from 24 per cent to 25 per cent of the student body.
While this may not seem like a significant increase, there are several problems with this proposal. Krull has already said that the university has faced issues accommodating so many students. With the Davis and North buildings still under construction, there is limited classroom and study space. If UTM plans to increase the number of international students, it will have to increase its resources and space allocation as well — and there is no indication that they will do so. Admitting more students can decrease the quality of the student experience. Since UTM previously announced decreasing the number of incoming students, this sudden announcement seems to be misguided and abrupt.
Over-enrolling international students is also not fair to international students. It seems that the administration is willing to exploit the fact that international tuition is unregulated and use international students as moneymakers. International students already pay thrice the tuition fees of domestic students, yet they do not receive any special accommodations or specific resources to reflect this hefty amount. Instead, they are likely to face bigger obstacles in adjusting to a new environment with little support.
The Ford government’s approach to postsecondary funding is alarming. The SCI and tuition cut are ultimately against student life and affordability on campuses. UTM students must critically review and challenge these changes.
Sharmeen Abedi is a fourth-year Criminology, Sociology, and English student at UTM. She is The Varsity’s UTM Affairs Columnist.