Since the initial release of the 2016-2017 provincial budget in April, many students have worried if their academic futures are now in jeopardy as a result spending cuts and tax increases. Now the Dwight Ball Liberal government, has confirmed that a mini-budget will come out this fall which will could include even deeper cuts for MUN in the fall or early spring.
While Post-Secondary Education (PSE) cuts haven’t been addressed yet, many student activists are getting ready for a fight to ensure equitable access to education now more than ever as a result of the budget claw-backs of the student grant program and graduate students paying thirty percent more this coming fall.
As a result of the looming mini-budget, this raises the question of what stances student organizers like MUNSU are taking to advocate on behalf of students to government.
Renata Lang, Director of Student Life, has pointed to past advocacy work as a success saying, “A really big win for us, was the elimination of loans to grants in NL. Unfortunately for us, with the new budget this was taken back. This did, however, push other provinces to do similar things.”
Lang how is keeping a positive attitude, “In our slogan, education is a right. So striving for free education is particularly important in NL because we have the lowest rate of literacy, and the highest use of food banks in Canada, too. Education is the greatest tool to bring people out of poverty and to empower themselves and bring more to their communities and their economy”
For those who are concerned about the excess of spending when considering free PSE for all, Lang says “It doesn’t mean anybody can go to university, it still means getting the GPA to enter the institution. It’s just removing that socio-economic barrier to accessing education,”
Lang highlighted that the student union here at MUN is “For students, by students”. and wants to remind people that “Currently PSE in North America is being treated like a business.”
Similarly on a national level, the Liberals promised to eliminate the 2% cap on the PSSSP fund for indigenous students, a commitment they have yet to enact.
Deputy Chairperson, Anne-Marie Roy, of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) said, “We launched a petition in the fall to ask the government to adequately fund the PSSSP and eliminate the barriers that indigenous students are facing and the fact that our government isn’t respecting treaty rights.”
Roy also pointed to existing PSE funding issues, “In the financial aid system, there is still a lot of red tape. Part of our financial aid system is relying on debt, I don’t think that is something we should be advocating for and I think that there is a better alternative out there”
Citing that, “Free tuition is that ultimate solution.”
According to Roy, a national CFS day of action, scheduled for November 2, can hopefully start something more broadly for students across Canada.
“The motion for the National Day of Action came from NL, they were able to demonstrate their victories thanks to the unity that students from NL are 100% united,”
“60% of PSE students come from higher income families. It’s very clear that tuition fees are a barrier.”
Roy concluded, “Tuition fees are gendered, racist, classist, and elitist. I don’t think it’s radical to say let’s be inclusive, anybody who has potential to learn and do great research should be able to go to college or university,”
While CFS is the largest organization representing students, CASA, another student organization advocates for progressive financial aid.
Treasurer of CASA, Brandon Simmons, says that while free education is a nice idea, “It is an unreasonable request. It is so important for us (at CASA) to get our asks in that progressive financial aid is our main goal for making equal access to education.”
Brianna Jarvin, Vice-President Academic of Acadia Student’s Union, a member union of CASA, says “What CASA sees is that there are most costs associated with education than just tuition.”
Regardless of what approach is being used to alleviate the financial barriers of being a student, with uncertainty about funding for MUN, it is certain that students will be organizing.