Adam Awad, UTSU VP-University Affairs, speaks to a student about the Drop Fees protest happening Nov. 5 Adam Awad, UTSU VP-University Affairs, speaks to a student about the Drop Fees protest happening Nov. 5 Alex Nursall

Tuition fees, funding, and equity issues continue to be some of the most contentious topics at U of T. On Thursday, November 5, the UTSU is planning a ‘Day of Action’ rally to protest escalating undergraduate tuition fees. Between seven and ten thousand students are expected to participate.

The rally brings together most major GTA schools. All three branches of the University of Toronto, York, Ryerson, and OCAD will converge in Queen’s Park, as part of a province-wide Day of Action. Similar protests and demonstrations will be held at campuses across Ontario.

The main impetus for these demonstrations is that Ontario students continue to face both the highest and fastest-increasing tuition fees in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, tuition fees in Ontario jumped 5 per cent for the 2009-2010 academic year, in comparison to a national average of 3.6 per cent. Similarly, Ontario students paid $5,951 in annual tuition, whereas the Canadian mean was $4,917. These increases have come quickly on the heels of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s annulment of a provincial tuition freeze in 2005, two years before its promised termination date.

Student union leaders point out that the spike in fees is due to such actions of the provincial government, rather than the university administration.

Hadia Akhtar, VP External for UTSU, says, “For a certain quality of education, there is a certain inevitable cost. U of T’s operational budget comes from three main sources: tuition, government funding, and private donations. It is only because of the provincial government’s decision to institute cutbacks on post-secondary education that the university has been forced to compensate by hiking up undergraduate fees.”

She adds that, for this reason, the Day of Action is directed almost exclusively at the Liberal government. The intention is to procure increased provincial funding for Ontario universities, so that undergraduate tuition fees can be scaled back to what they were in 2004.

“If anything, the U of T administration should be lobbying with us,” says Akhtar. “It’s in everyone’s best interest. After all, it’s not like the university is actually making a profit from high tuition fees; all the money just goes to make up for lost financial support.”

Her beliefs are echoed in the Tuition Fee Schedule for Publicly-Funded Programs, a report presented in March 2009 to the Business Board of the U of T Governing Council by Cheryl Misak, the university’s Vice-President and Provost. The report clearly states that “without the $39.9 million of new revenue from the proposed tuition fee schedule [for 2009-2010]…the planned improvements to student experience would need to be delayed.”

The Liberal Party, however, defends its decisions by pointing out that Ontario cannot be compared to other provinces. It contains the highest population as well as the most diversified economy in Canada.

“Ontario’s vast mix of programs, types of institutions, and student population make inter-provincial comparisons challenging,” says Emily Durst, of the office of the Minister for Training, Colleges, and Universities. “The report by Statistics Canada compares tuition fees for all programs, including professional ones that are not offered in other provinces.”

Durst also noted that higher tuition fees have been accompanied by increased scholarship, bursary, and grant initiatives. They will not affect those who cannot afford any more barriers to their education.

“Through our Reaching Higher Plan, we have made the largest investment in post-secondary education in 40 years,” she says. “We’ve boosted student aid by investing $1.5 billion to make post-secondary education more affordable for low and middle-income families. Non-repayable access grants are available to students from families earning up to $80,000. We continue to limit students’ annual repayable OSAP debt, while increasing loan maximums by 27 per cent. The Ontario Student Loan default rate declined to 8.4 per cent in 2008-2009, the lowest value since we began measuring the default rate in 1997, when it was 23.5 per cent.”

UTSU is adamant however that without sufficient government intervention, fees will escalate to the point that they will be seriously detrimental to U of T’s equity policies. Akhtar and other student-union leaders believe that high fees will dissuade people from lower economic groups from even considering university, regardless of how many loans are offered. They see this as contradicting U of T’s role as a central public institution in Toronto. They are hopeful that the strength and wide-reach of the Day of Action will convince the government to reinstate new policies for 2010.

The U of T rally begins at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 5, at Sidney Smith. At 2:00 p.m., the group will move to Queen’s Park to demonstrate in front of the Ontario Legislature.


Eds: Original story moved Thursday, November 5th.
Update: Correction to wording in paragraphs 9 and 11.
Due to reporting errors, comments in the November 5th article “Students Rally Against Tuition Fees” were incorrectly attributed to Emily Durst, spokesperson for John Milloy, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. the newspaper retracts these comments and apologizes to Ms. Durst.

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