College, university students walk out of class to protest funding changes
Published Wednesday, March 20, 2019 12:41PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, March 20, 2019 5:16PM EDT
Students from colleges and universities across the province held a noon hour walk-out to protest funding reforms by the Ford government.
About 200 Western University students gathered in front of the University Community Centre.
Their chants made it clear they want nothing to do with Premier Doug Ford’s government cut-backs.
“You say cut-backs, we say f**k that. You say cut-backs, we say f**k that."
The province has cut grants available through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), while implementing an across-the-board 10 per cent reduction of tuition fees.
Mary Blake Rose, president of Western's Society of Graduate Students, told the gathering, "We have seen through the rhetoric."
As one of the rally organizers, Rose says more students will be hurt than helped by the changes.
"The replacement of a lot of OSAP grants with loans is now leading to students saying that they're not sure about next year. They're not sure how they're going to pay for next year. High school students saying, 'Well, I don't know if I want to go to college or university anymore.' And that's extremely troubling."
Union representatives say the tuition reductions will force across-the-board cuts on campuses.
Kathleen Webster is chief steward with CUPE local 2361, the union that represents Western University tradespeople, custodians and grounds keepers.
"Everybody is going to be required to do more with less. That is what these cuts mean ultimately; in every department. So, it's not just the students that are affected. It’s definitely all of us on the ground floor who will be expected to do more with less."
Society of Graduate Students member Heidi Kellett says the funding changes could see researchers and innovators who would become economic drivers for the province either abandon their education or leave Ontario to take their skills elsewhere.
"The only way to pay the tuition for many doctoral candidates and students would be to have OSAP. So these changes to the structure of OSAP, the six-month grace period for interest-free repayment and then the changes to the ratio of loans to grants will deeply affect the pockets of graduate students, and many graduate students will drop out."
Rally organizers also condemned the decision to make student fees optional, saying many organizations that improve the student experience could be lost.