A 10 per-cent cut to post-secondary tuition sounds good for students on paper but for the majority of students protesting outside Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith’s constituency office on Monday, they say the Conservative governments’ decision to lower tuition fees is actually making education more expensive for lower-income students.
A noon-hour protest saw more than 50 Trent University students and other supporters gather to protest the recent tuition changes to post-secondary institutions across the province.
“The big thing is the decrease of tuition by 10 per cent, but the problem is what comes along with that decrease to the total amount of grant funding available with OSAP,” said Brandon Remmelgas, president of the Trent Central Student Association.
Under these changes announced by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, it says the OSAP model will change back to the framework outlined in 2016.
The government has said the current student aid model is unsustainable but students here say the shift back to the old model in step in the wrong direction as these protestors say changes to OSAP funding will mean more debt for lower-income students.
“The average student is going to have access to fewer grants and have to incur more debt,” said Remmelgas. “Students that make less take longer to pay off their loans and therefore pay more interest.”
Protests also focused on ancillary fees that students pay to support programs on campus like funding the student government and newspaper, along with services like the Trent Express transit system that is funded by student fees and facilitated by the City of Peterborough transit system.
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The Conservative government wants to allow students to opt-out of these ancillary fees as another means to keep tuition lower.
Remmelgas calls this move “undemocratic” and said back in 1995, Trent undergrads voted to fund the Trent Central Students Association on an annual basis.
At Trent, it costs students roughly $33 dollars a year to fund the student government that works on their behalf to implement programs like health and dental benefits and transportation.
“The government wants to make that fee an opt-out-able,” said Remmelgas. “Which means students that don’t understand what student unions do or students that don’t value the work of student unions can opt out of that which will drastically affect our ability to organize and advocate for free education and accessible education.”
The Trent Arthur newspaper relies on the student levy payments or ancillary fees to publish and distribute its newspaper on campus and around the city.
“The newspaper has been running for over 50 years and has been democratically maintained as a result of that as a non-refundable levy,” said Arthur co-editor-in-chief and Trent graduate Leina Amatsuji-Berry. “We receive a little under $11 per capita of all undergraduate students that are enrolled in 1.5 or more credits and that provides our funding to print the newspaper, hire our staff and make sure everything is running very smoothly.”
The reduction of tuition fees by 10 per-cent means Trent university stands to lose $8 million in revenue next year, which has come as a bit of a shock to Trent president Dr. Leo Groarke who says the school will adapt by means of operating cuts and finding new revenue streams.
“Number one, we will be looking to cut the operating budgets of the different units of the university and number two we’ll be looking to increase revenue as well,” said Groarke. “I would think that we would also increase enrolment and we’ll be careful because when you increase enrolment in some areas it creates tensions and we’ll want to manage those tensions carefully.
Groarke says smaller classes will become larger classes and in some cases, classes may be cut altogether but hopes some ancillary fees, like transportation and athletics, will remain mandatory and not make the problem as big as it might seem on campus.
The idea to create more revenue by increasing enrolment is a challenge especially when changes to student aid and access to grants are reduced, but Groarke thinks Trent can boost its enrolment over the next two years.