The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) and Centennial College Students’ Association Incorporated (CCSAI) hosted a student town hall with Minister Mitzie Hunter on March 14 at the UTSC campus.
Hunter is the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development and the MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood. She is currently running for re-election as the Ontario Liberal candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood.
The town hall discussion focused on accessible tuition, which is highlighted in the recent provincial budget’s reformed OSAP program, as well as issues surrounding domestic and international tuition fees, experiential learning, and transit affordability for students.
Hunter reminisced on her days at UTSC as an undergraduate student. “It was on this campus that I found meaning and strength to that voice,” she said. “We would sit as students and debate for hours… It was on this campus, in this university, that my scope and definition of the world and my place in that was expanded.”
She also spoke about her work on OSAP reform. “Over 224,000 students, in fact, have access to free tuition through OSAP… Students are graduating with less financial burden than otherwise,” said Hunter.
Hunter said she was dedicated to making postsecondary education more accessible to students of all backgrounds, especially underrepresented groups.
“We’re very committed to that as a government, continuing to invest in the skills and in the talent of our people and making sure that Ontario is a province that is fair and inclusive for everyone,” she said.
In the Q&A session, students asked questions about the future of transit systems and infrastructure in Scarborough, investments in postsecondary education, accessible education for Indigenous people, experiential learning, and the rising costs of tuition fees.
Regarding transit systems, Hunter talked about the many projects that are both currently underway and planned – one of them being the Guildwood GO Station.
“It’s being completely redesigned, and we’re adding a third track… so that at the end of the day, we can introduce a GO Regional Express Rail, which means that we will have faster service across our system,” said Hunter.
She also mentioned the possibility of extending a transit system to the UTSC campus: “I am going to fight to expand the [Scarborough] RT from Kennedy station along Eglinton Morningside to the UTSC campus, so that students can get where they need to go faster and more comfortably.”
Hunter brought up her annual youth career fair program to reflect on the importance of experiential learning. She believes that “students as young as grade seven, as well as high school students, need to get a sense of who they want to be in the future.”
She also highlighted the importance of experiential learning outside of school, which she said can further contribute to students’ success in postsecondary education and the job market.
“Experiential learning is really helping to bring students closer to the jobs of the future, because it’s really about work-integrated learning, so while students are learning in school, they have an opportunity to have hands-on real-world experience, which actually enhances what they’re learning in the classroom,” said Hunter.
Hunter has also helped in creating a program called Career Kickstart to help students coming out of postsecondary to get their first job.
“Employers need to be more open to hiring students, so we’ve created a program to help bridge that,” she said. “We’ve invested in many different programs across the province that are helping students to get real hands on experience while they’re learning.”
When one student asked why the government is drawing funding from postsecondary institutions, which they said is leading to higher tuition costs, Hunter replied that contrary to popular belief, the government has actually increased investments in postsecondary education and will “continue to increase our support” for postsecondary education.
Hunter says that access has improved with the reformed OSAP program. The reformed program removes the age limit so that people can easily access postsecondary education at different stages in their lives. It also takes away the requirement that Indigenous students contribute $3,000 to the program.