All three U of T campuses united for a rally in downtown Toronto last Wednesday on the National Day of Action, advocating for free university tuition.
Chants at the rally varied between “Education is a right, we will not give up the fight,” “Tuition fees have got to go,” “Education is under attack, what do we do? Rise up like that,” and several others calling for eliminating tuition fees.
“The last National Day of Action took place in 2012, meaning that the majority of students who were involved at the time have now graduated,” wrote Nour Alideeb, UTMSU’s president, in an email to The Medium. “We wanted to reaffirm the message that students still want a free and accessible post-secondary education.”
Students continued from Sydney Smith toward the Provincial Parliament Building located in Queen’s Park, where Ryerson and York University students also joined, as well as guest speakers who supported the students’ action.
“Our students in Ontario pay the highest tuition in the country. Shame,” said UTM biology professor Linda Kohn at the rally. “Last year, for the first time, tuition fees exceeded public operations for Ontario. […] Our universities are meant to be public and supported by public funding.”
“The tuition fees of the university of Toronto are unhinged, they’re out of control, they’re rapidly rising, and they are criminal,” said Ryan Culpepper, chair of CUPE3902 at the rally.
Culpepper also questioned where the student fees are going.
“They’re building five-million-dollar bamboo gardens in the school of medicine. Is that where you want your tuition fees going to? […] We got more managers than workers at this university, and that’s a shame.”
Yusra Khogali from the Black Liberation Collective stated, “U of T is not a place for Black students.”
“Our education is not for sale. It is not profitable. It is not exploitable. Our education is our liberation. It is not a privilege; it is a right,” continued Khogali.
The rally also featured Ahmad Gaieb, an executive vice president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Rajean Hoilett, a chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, organizers from the Black Liberation Collective, and other speakers who supported the cause.
“I do believe that free tuition is an attainable goal,” stated Alideeb in an email to The Medium. “We see countries like Germany and France providing free post-secondary education, so why won’t Canada?”
“It is possible, we just need to pressure our governments to invest in our post-secondary education,” she also said, adding that following years of pressure on the government, low-income students will now receive grants that pay off their tuition.
Also in an email to The Medium, UTSU’s president Jasmine Wong-Denike stated that the union’s current focus is on the “threat” of the expiration of tuition increase caps after 2016-2017 academic year.
“UTSU have personally met with the office of the premier, as well as minister Deb Matthews and her office,” said Wong-Denike.
“The CFS, in effect, is arguing for free tuition for higher-income students—and I’ve got to say, that’s not where my priority would be,” said Matthews in an interview with The Medium.
“I’m really looking to increase the participation rate for those who are less likely to go on, so whether it’s Indigenous kids, students from lower-income families, people who want to return to get an education maybe a little later in life, like I did. I really want to take down those financial barriers to support people to achieve their potential,” Matthews added.
Currently, Ontario’s tuition cannot be raised beyond three percent, according to Alideeb. She explained that Canada’s provincial government will be discussing the tuition cap framework.
“After December, that cap can potentially be eliminated like it was in Nova Scotia,” she said. “Our friends in Nova Scotia saw increases of 30 percent after their tuition caps were eliminated.”
“We want to ensure that our provincial government knows that students in Ontario are expecting free education, and nothing less than that.”
While the administration has yet to respond to the rally, Alideeb says that the student union will continue to pressure the Campus and Governing Councils to freeze parking and tuition fees.
Students were granted academic amnesty on the day of the rally, which meant that they could be excused from attending their classes without being penalized. AccessAbility was also present at the rally, as there were people translating the chants into signs.
Buses were also provided by UTMSU and the Scarborough Campus Student Union from their respective campuses to the place of the rally.
According to Bilan Arte, CFS’ national chairperson, thousands of students took action at 58 campuses in 36 cities across every province last Wednesday.
“We believe that education is a right,” said Arte. “After too many years of fighting against cuts, members of the Canadian Federation of Students are pursuing the only goal that will address the crisis in post-secondary education in Canada, free education.”
Arte also stated that this Day of Action took place in communities as large as Toronto and Vancouver, and small communities like that of Church Point, Nova Scotia, and Gander, Newfoundland.
“Statements of support were made in the chambers of four governments in this country,” she said. “Students’ work is having an impact. Together we will win.”
Other events were hosted throughout the week as part of a Week of Action hosted by UTSU. One such event was a town hall meeting to discuss tuition fees, tuition caps, and the benefits of OSAP. Other events included a discussion on climate change, an art and painting distressing workshop, and a Social Justice and Equity commission.