Despite the cold temperatures that kept school buses off the roads on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, approximately 200 Queen’s University students bundled up to hit the streets and speak their minds.
The group of students gathered at the intersection of University and Union Streets, signs in hand and protest chants ringing out in the frigid air. And while the messages on their signs and in the air differed slightly, one thing that didn’t was the reason that brought the students together: the recently-announced proposed changes to college and university funding models by the provincial government.
While the Ontario Government is planning a 10 per cent reduction to tuition costs for the 2019 to 2020 school year (and then freezing those rates the following year), a change welcomed by many students, it the other changes being put in place the students take issue with. Changes to student loans (OSAP) as well as changes to non-tuition student fees are not being received as well by students and the organizations that support student interests.
“We totally support tuition cuts, but we also support funding for the universities and colleges,” said Craig Berggold, president of the local 901 of Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents teaching assistants, research assistants, and fellows at Queen’s University.
“What this is doing is creating a headline, like ‘a buck a beer,’ and creating the idea that we’ve got a great product – we’re getting a tuition cut – and then they’re taking away, at the same time, OSAP, and taking away the rights of student unions to collect fees on campus for services, like athletics, health and safety, walk-home programs, all of those services might be in jeopardy if [these changes] come,” Berggold continued.
“The majority of people want lower fees, but at the same time we want quality education, and the government isn’t providing any additional funds to make up for the tuition costs. So it’s not just about lowering the price of education, it’s also lowering the quality of the education.”
Berggold said the Ford government’s changes have the potential to hurt smaller colleges and universities the most through lower enrolment, and that the changes actually just make access to education more difficult for working class people and those in low-income situations.
“And the 10 per cent tuition cut doesn’t save the government any money. It downloads the cost of education onto us,” he said.
City Councillor Robert Kiley spoke at the protest, which made its way to Richardson Hall, the building on Queen’s campus that houses the offices of the Principal, Provost, and Vice Principals of the University.
“This is an important political conversation,” Kiley said, noting that, while he was the deputy leader of the Green Party of Ontario at one point, and also a candidate for MPP for Kingston and the Islands in the past, he was addressing the students personally.
“As students, you know that OSAP doesn’t discriminate based on political party, or ideology, gender, or sex. It does however differentiate based on parents’ income. But that’s fine, because I believe all our social programs should support the most vulnerable, at least economically. And it is clear: moving to fewer grants and cancelling the grace period for repayment is a direct slap down to those who need a hand up,” Kiley said.
And while current MPP Ian Arthur was unable to be at the protest as he was at pre-budgetary hearings in Timmins, Ont., he sent a statement to be read on his behalf.
“The decision by the Ford government to cut OSAP and to charge students more interest on their student loans will mean more debt for students. It will mean that more people are weighed down by the cost of their education. It will mean more people putting off big life decisions — like moving out on their own, or even starting a family — because of student debt. That’s wrong, and we need to fight back. Students deserve better,” Arthur said in the statement, which also noted that his office here in Kingston is open to help all students and is currently circulating petitions to take to Queen’s Park about the recently-announced changes.
“I also want to talk about Ford’s scheme to de-fund student organizations and student unions by allowing people to pick and choose which dues they’ll pay,” Arthur continued in the statement.
“These organizations exist to enrich and represent the best interests of students. From student health insurance to walk-safe programs that protect women and other vulnerable students, student union programs do important work, and cutting them will hurt students.”
The protest remained peaceful and focused, causing little disruption to traffic or those in the area.
With files from Dominic Owens and Lucas Mulder.