Denouncing Doug Ford’s attack on post-secondary students and post-secondary workers

The Ottawa CUPE District Council (OCDC) condemns Doug Ford’s attack on post-secondary students and workers on post-secondary education campuses. Following the Ford Government announcement on January 17th and subsequent clarifications, postsecondary students and workers in Ontario now face a precarious future.

Ontario has been witnessing regressive policy announcements since the inauguration of the Ford government, and January 17th’s policy announcement, portrayed as the “Student Choice Initiative,” is no exception. This policy takes aim at post-secondary education and student unions. If implemented as is, this policy will be detrimental to under-privileged students and the working class. It’s a policy that could force universities to rely more on institutional integration with corporations in exchange for funding and carries a substantial risk of commercial influences on academic research and university curricula.

It is indisputable that reductions in tuition fees are good policy–with the lone exception of where they’re unfunded and accompanied by cuts to existing grant programs.

—Benjamin Segobaetso, CUPE 1281

Usually, tuition cuts don’t reduce the quality of education because they’re offset by increases in public funding. This tuition cut doesn’t work that way: it works out to a 4% cut to operating funds of colleges and universities. This will be downloaded to the most precariously-employed campus workers, who will experience more work load and unfair wages and benefits. It will trickle down to students: it’ll lead to a decline in the quality of education due to larger class sizes. The results of these unfunded cuts would be increased corporate governance of universities—a system that caters to the wealthy, leaving students, adjunct professors and new hires in precarity. Due to the pressure of having to find alternative ways to fund programs, universities may adopt “business-like” practices. This can lead to the redefinition of public space on campuses to attract businesses or the formulation of new policies and incentives that direct research missions toward commercialization.

The policy announcement also made cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) whereby the government will move away from the grants-based tuition funding to loan based funding. This changes to OSAP will negatively affect those students who are the least advantaged and may ultimately affect their ability to access post secondary education. There will be more loans and less grants under the current policy compared to the previous one. Unlike the previous policy, students with household income of $50,000 will now have part of their OSAP grant changed to repayable loan. In this case the much-praised 10% reduction in tuition fees will be outweighed by higher debt loads that students will carry—especially when combined with the government’s decision to cancel the six-month interest-free grace period on loans—at a time when some provinces (Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) have eradicated interest on provincial student loans completely.

Students’ unions, independent campus media and social clubs are under attack too. One of the controversial aspects of this policy announcement is the decision to make student auxiliary fees optional except those for health and wellness. This is an attempt to silence student unions and independent campus media: both groups that are vocal opponents of the Doug Ford.

The fees paid for by students were democratically voted on and passed in referendums—students already made their choice, and now Doug Ford wants to destabilize the organizations that rely on those fees.

—Benjamin Segobaetso, CUPE 1281

The Ford government has full comprehension that this kind of attack on students’ unions will reduce their ability to represent their members. What the government realizes is that student unions advocacy work is essential. Students unions provide an independent, democratic voice for students so that they may have a say in their own education. It is no secret that students, through their students’ unions, have long fought for government action on accessible, affordable, high-quality, public post-secondary education, which is why students’ unions are the latest target of the Ford government.