A group of concerned Algoma University and Sault College students rallied for their education on Tuesday afternoon, marching from City Hall to MPP Ross Romano’s office on Elgin St., where they had a chance to speak with Romano himself.
Concerns ranged from tuition cuts and opting out of student fees, to OSAP changes and lack of jobs in Sault Ste. Marie for post-secondary students after graduation, concerns for future generations and quality education, and more.
“We just want to make a statement and just let the PC Government know that we are not going to stop fighting until our voices are heard,” Algoma U Student Union President Pauline Danquah told SaultOnline.
As the President of the Student Union, Danquah said one of her main concerns is the student choice initiative, which she says is really going to hurt student unions by cutting costs for student services such as the food pantry, bus passes, health and dental plan services, student advocacy, and more.
“If students have a choice to opt out, I am under the assumption that every student is going to cut that cost, obviously, because they want to decrease their tuition,” she said.
Romano told SaultOnline that he was happy to hear from the students and that he intends to pass their concerns along to the government, the minister and Premier Doug Ford. He said he thinks having this conversation with the students was an important way to clear up any misconceptions they may have had.
“I think there are some concerns that are generating that are unfounded,” he said. “We have indicated as a government that we want to make school more affordable for our students. And we heard that time and time again through the election – affordability just keeps on coming up as one of the most principle issues we’re dealing with as a society.”
Romano said he thinks the ten per cent cut to tuition fees is going to be a very positive thing for the students.
“A ten per cent reduction is substantial,” he said.
Romano said one of the biggest concerns he heard was where the money was going to come from to make up for these cuts. He explained to SaultOnline that the government worked hard to create a fund and to put a system in place for Northern Ontario to help institutions that feel some difficulty from that reduction.
“Schools like Algoma University and Sault College would be able to apply to that,” he said .”I’m very confident that that will be able to satisfy the types of concerns that are being raised on that basis.”
Another concern brought up was the changes in OSAP policies, such as eliminating free tuition to certain tax brackets and reducing the grant portion of OSAP, meaning the loan amount – the amount required to pay back after graduation – would increase, putting them further into debt, which under new legislation, they’re required to start paying back as soon as they graduate.
Romano said these changes are necessary to ensure that the OSAP program will be sustainable enough for future generations.
“The Auditor General released a report making it crystal clear that OSAP would not be around any longer if we kept on going down this path,” he explained. “Something needed to change, so these modest changes were made to try to ensure that we have an OSAP system that is sustainable for the future, but most importantly, is that we have an OSAP system that is geared for those people who need it most.”
Danquah said, although Romano took the time to listen and try to absolve some of these concerns, she thinks his bias got in the way.
“The way he was answering our questions, we could tell he was very biased, he wasn’t that open,” she said.
She said even though he tried to relate by using his own experiences, they just aren’t the same as what students are facing today.
“Yes he was a student in the past, yes he’s been on AUSU (Algoma U Student Union), but these times have changed, things are not the same, and you can’t be using past legislations from OSAP to be used now.That’s not going to help us in any way,” she said. “So yeah, he might take it to Doug, but is (Ford) going to hear us? Probably not. Don’t think so.”
Quinn Meawasige, President of Shingwauk Anishaabe Students’ Association, said some next steps they plan to take include reaching out to Sault College to get their union on board to form potential coalitions with the different labour unions within the Sault, continuing the pressure.
“Also, at the Canadian Federation of Students, there’s a province-wide campaign with the different universities across the province,” he explained. “So we’re going to be in solidarity with campuses across the province and opposing these regressive policies to make sure that students’ interests and voices are heard.”