Dropping fees? Look closer

It’s that time of the year again. “Drop Fees” fever has taken over our campus and, as usual, we are being treated to politically-charged rants, Guy Fawkes masks, and other assorted paraphernalia that was paid for by, well, our fees.

Irony aside (it deserves an editorial in its own right), I’d like to take a moment and meditate on an important part of the campaign. It is a number, but not just any number. This number has been quoted by student unions across the province (including our own), and it will play a crucial role in all that follows over the next few months.

30%. That’s what our student union wants you to believe Dalton McGuinty promised to cut in student fees. Doesn’t it sound too good to be true? That’s because, simply put, it is.

Don’t believe me? Do a quick scan online. Read McGuinty’s platform. Do some research. (You get enough practice with your assignments, don’t you?) Here’s the lowdown: Dalton McGuinty and the Liberal Party of Ontario pledged to give grants of $1,600 to students who come from families with an income of less than $160,000. That 30% everyone is talking about is the ratio of the grant to the average cost of university tuition. This is not a reduction of student fees in any way, shape, or form—it’s just free money.

So what does that mean? Well, for one thing it means that tuition fees are likely to increase this year, as they have in the past. There is no reason why McGuinty can’t just raise fees to make up for the amount his government is spending on these grants (around $500 million). Of course, it’s unlikely that will happen, but the point is that a $1,600 grant does not a fees reduction make.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I love getting funds credited to my university account. But I do take issue when those around me (and those who represent me) twist it into something else and then try to base an entire campaign on it.

I think this misrepresentation is an intentional attempt by our student union to drum up interest in the Drop Fees campaign scheduled to take place this coming February. Why? Because the event has proven quite unsuccessful in the past. Not only have student fees continued to rise (while per-student funding from the government has dropped), but I believe students have taken notice of the wastefulness of union spending on the campaign.

By advertising that McGuinty promised a 30% reduction in fees and arguing that the goal of the Drop Fees rally is partly to “hold our politicians to account”, student unions can focus their anti-fees rhetoric on a visible target—a change from their previous unfocussed campaigns.

The reality is that student fees will rise this year. And next year. And the year after that. If our provincial government ever decides to revoke the grant, the spike will be even more visible. And when that happens, we won’t be able to argue that McGuinty promised a fee reduction. Because he didn’t.


Michael Di Leo

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