OUSA campaigns for a tuition freeze

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) is calling for a tuition freeze during Ontario’s next tuition framework in response to rising student costs. Initiated as a “time-out” campaign, students are asking the government to subsidize tuition increases to balance student contributions.

In a press release, OUSA explained that tuition increases outpace inflation, government contributions, and average income. The average tuition has risen by 58.7 per cent in the past decade in Ontario.

Spencer Nestico-Semianiw, president of OUSA’s steering committee and VP education of McMaster’s Student Union, explains why the campaign was initiated.

“For any student who has been involved in post-secondary in Ontario, it’s quite clear that tuition has been rising every year. Usually universities are allowed to raise tuition between three and five per cent,” he said. “Over time this has made it quite unaffordable for students.”

School costs have now been shifted from a publicly funded system to a publicly assisted system. In 2012, students were paying for 51 per cent of school operating budgets.

“We want to make sure that there is equal cost-sharing and investment from all different aspects of society and not just an increasingly large burden placed on students.”

Students at McMaster calculated that if the average tuition increased by three per cent each year, then after four years — the typical tenure of a student — tuition will have increased by $750.

The campaign is focusing on eliminating the three to five per cent increases as of the 2016-2017 year. OUSA is hoping that a reallocation of tax credit will circumvent any losses in revenue that universities might experience.

“By costing out what a tuition freeze would cost of the government it approximates $106 million, but the government currently allocates $340 million to tuition, education, and textbook tax credits,” Nestico-Semianiw said. “We would like to see that money repurposed so a portion of it would go to funding a tuition freeze.”

OUSA calculated that after about four years of a tuition freeze, student contributions to educational operating budgets would return to below 50 per cent. “That would essentially be able to show that students are now no longer the largest contributors to universities, which is important.”

Stéphane Hamade, Feds’ VP education, is one of the members of OUSA’s steering committee. Primarily, he is working to raise awareness of the campaign.

&ldquo;[Our president has made an appearance] on the <em>Toronto Star</em>, and quite a few media appearances across the province in different newspapers or videos,&rdquo; Hamade said. &ldquo;I hope it will put pressure and inform the government that this is an important issue that they can take action on in the new 2016-2017 tuition framework that will last four to five years.&rdquo;

Every few years, the government decides on how the tuition framework should be modified. Nestico-Semianiw hopes that the upcoming consultations will focus on initiating a long-term framework.

&ldquo;What&rsquo;s challenging with very short term frameworks is students might not be able to predict how high their tuition could go if the framework they are currently under expires.&rdquo;

Ideally, a four- or five-year framework would ensure predictability for students.

&ldquo;We would like to see a long-term framework and one that has a fully funded freeze. Those are essentially the two aspects we look at.&rdquo;

Nestico-Semianiw explained that the framework would have a particularly large impact on students from vulnerable populations. This includes students with disabilities, indigenous students, students from low-income groups, etc.&nbsp;

&ldquo;These students tend to have a more significant impact from what we call &lsquo;sticker shock&rsquo;. &rdquo;

This means that some students will self-select out of their education as an innate reaction when they see the expenses involved, regardless of financial aid they may receive.&nbsp;

&ldquo;So looking at a tuition freeze would help all of those students because they now see the cost of their education is lower than it would have been,&rdquo; Nestico-Semianiw said.


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