By Hamida Ghafour and Jonathan Bjerg Moller
Round four of a fight between the province and students resisting education cuts is starting early.
About 100 university students marched downtown Tuesday to protest tougher loan regulations, reports of $800-million education cuts and plans for private universities.
The crowd blocked the intersection of College Street and University Avenue, causing traffic congestion. Police arrested York University student Rich Wyman and first-year urban planning student Elise Gatti.
Witnesses said officer threw Gatti to the ground and roughed her up.
“We know this government wants to give a knockout punch to students and we’re not going to be knocked out,” said Joel Harden, Ontario chair of the Canadian Federation of Students. “This is life in Hariss’ Ontario.”
Since 1996, students have protested cuts to education with an annual march. This year’s protest is on Feb. 2.
But last week, when The Toronto Star reported a leaked Cabinet document proposing $800-million in education cuts — $160-million from universities and colleges — student groups were left scrambling to organize a protest.
Education Minister Janet Ecker has refused to confirm or deny the existence of the report. But the government did announce harsher regulations on student loans. Money siphoned from the federal government’s Millennium Scholarship will also go into provincial coffers.
RyeSAC president Erin George said any cuts to universities will hit Ryerson even harder because of its huge debt load after becoming a university in 1993.
“The administration then will look at deregulating and hiking tuition more seriously,” she said.
The government also announced $309-million in cuts to balance the provincial budget and deliver another tax cut. Health and education weren’t part of this round of cuts. But another $450-million in cuts is expected next year.
Universities and Colleges Minister Dianne Cunningham also said private universities are “an option” and she will look at cutting university and college programs that don’t lead to jobs.
“None of these things are good, especially for Ryerson,” said Rena Mendelson, associate v.p. academic. But she couldn’t elaborate because the school doesn’t have details of the changes.
Privatized universities will mean wealthy taxpayers will object to paying for public universities that don’t benefit them, said Sid Ryan, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
But Cunningham said, “There will be a place for every qualified, motivated student who wants to go to any university in the province. No government has helped poor students more.”