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Freezing the fees, kind of

By Keith Capstick

It was announced last week that students from low-income families will soon receive tuition grants while thousands in additional funding will be handed out to middle-income students. But the push for increased provincial funding and better access to education has been present at Ryerson for decades.

Various Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) executive teams have participated in student action campaigns with names ranging from Freeze the Fees to Drop Fees. Former Ryerson president Sheldon Levy left the school last semester for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities while provincial and national student advocacy groups like the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) have developed researched suggestions for how the government can change its approach to budgeting for education.

“We saw action in the Freeze the Fees campaign and the action that was organized at Ryerson was one of the initiatives [that] paved the way for these types of conversations to happen,” said Rajean Hoilett, last year’s RSU president and current CFS Ontario Chairperson.

Hoilett said that this latest announcement is an example of how student action can really make a difference.

“I know that a lot of students are skeptical about how effective student activism is and I think that this announcement very loud and clearly has affirmed and proclaimed that student activism does work,” said Hoilett. “When we get organized, when we’re united, when we stand together with students across the province we have an opportunity to be able to bring about real change.”

Over the past few years, the RSU has seen a number of institutional changes with new slates coming and old slates going — but the one constant has been the student union’s fight for increased access to education on campus.

Cormac McGee, this year’s vice-president education, has tackled financial constraints a little differently this year by focusing on unpaid internships and looking ahead to the 2017 tuition framework review.

McGee was present for the reading of the budget and also met with the minister of finance on behalf of Ryerson a few days earlier. He said the experience felt like a “photo-op” but maintained that being a part of the conversation in any way will allow students to pitch real change to the province.

Reza Moridi, the Ontario minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, is looking to implement this new legislation for the beginning of the September 2017 academic year. Moridi said the day this announcement was made was the most “important, significant and pleasant day in [his] life as a politician.”

But even he admits that there is a lot of work to be done, saying that Ontario has a cap on tuition fees and with the tuition framework being up for reconsideration in 2017, the ministry will “again start working on it and see what [they] can do.”

Like Moridi, Martin Fox, who is running for vice-president education on the RU Connected slate for this year’s RSU election, says this has been a long time coming.

“I think students should definitely be happy that we are getting financial help, but at the same time this is not the end of the push to make education fully accessible — there are still some shortcomings in this. It’s a great step but it’s not the end of the path,” said Fox.

Fox said that even though this is a great step for students, the first step for the student movement is to deconstruct the idea that this has now made tuition “free” for low-income students, because he said that isn’t exactly the case.

He pointed to the mandatory fees that students have to pay outside of tuition, textbook prices and interest rates on student loans as factors in diminishing access to education that need to be addressed in order for this framework to have a substantive effect.

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