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By Richard Maerov

Ryerson students have voted in favour of having their tuition fees frozen or reduced next year.

In a campus-wide tuition-fee referendum conducted by the Ryerson Students’ Union from Nov. 14 to 18, more than 97 per cent of students voted for reducing fees and approximately 96 per cent voted for maintaining the tuition freeze.

More than 4,700 undergraduate, graduate and continuing education students, representing almost 18 per cent of the student body, cast their ballots. This is roughly double the turnout of February’s election of RSU executives.

“We are very excited about these results,” said Nora Loreto, RSU vice-president education. “This will send a strong message to the provincial government that Ryerson students recognize they are paying too much for their education.”

The referendum is part of a Canadian Federation of Students’ initiative to get all post-secondary students across Ontario to respond to Premier Dalton McGuinty’s recent announcement that tuition fees will go up in 2006. Jesse Greener, head of the CFS’s Ontario chapter, said Ryerson’s referendum results are in line with those from other Ontario campuses, including York University, University of Toronto and Laurentian University.

“We are seeing overwhelmingly that students and their families are at the end of their ropes in terms of being able to pay higher fees,” said Greener. But former RyeSAC president Dave MacLean questions the merit of the referendum. “It’s really stupid,” he said. “It’s the same as going up to a homeowner and asking if they would have liked to pay less for their house. “You can ask any marketing research expert and they will tell you that these results will have no statistical relevance whatsoever.”

MacLean criticized the RSU for not properly educating students about the issues at stake and said students were pressured into voting in favour of the fee freeze and reduction by biased pollsters. “It’s like having a political party sitting at the voting booth telling you to vote for them,” said MacLean.

Greener said the referendum is raising awareness among students because it is engaging them directly in the negotiating process with the government. “Politicians need the opinion of their constituents to make a decision. The Premier has disengaged himself from student input he clearly needs, so this is a way to reengage him on this important issue in a public way,” he said. Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for Chris Bentley, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, said the minister is aware of the student referendums but said it is unrealistic to think these actions will convince the government to maintain the tuition freeze.

“The Premier has said that tuition fees will be increasing and he hasn’t moved from that position,” Fitzpatrick said. “Students have to realize that if the government continues the freeze the money has to come from somewhere. It will be the quality of the education that suffers.” Loreto said money is available but the government chooses to make cuts to education, believing students are too disorganized and busy to make a fuss.

“We’re sitting ducks. If they were to make cuts from health care there would be rioting in the streets,” she said.

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