Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives
By: Donna Nadeem, Anastasia Gaykalova and Matthew Jones
At the McMaster Students’ Union Student Representative Assembly on Nov. 25, the SRA passed a number of policy papers, including “Tuition & Student Financing in Post-Secondary Education,” “On-Campus Infrastructure” and “Student Engagement & Retention.”
“Tuition & Student Financing in Post-Secondary Education”
Rising tuition is one of the most pressing issues affecting post-secondary students in Canada.
Once enrolled, OSAP provides a number of grants and loans to students with financial need to lessen the costs of tuition.
While not mentioned in the policy paper, it should be noted that Ontario government’s recently announced changes are expected to reduce tuition by 10 per cent but also scrap OSAP grants for low-income students and remove the six month grace period that students were previously given to pay off their loans following graduation.
The policy paper argues that restrictions to the current OSAP deny many individuals access to its services, pushing back these students’ entry into post-secondary education.
It also notes that tuition increases by a substantial rate each year, continually surpassing the rate of inflation.
According to the paper, currently, 53 to 70 per cent of student financial aid through OSAP includes loans.
Although offering loans to pay back tuition later may appear to help with accessibility and enrollment, the more tuition rates increase, the greater the amount students will have to pay back.
During student interviews included in the policy paper, students said that they have noticed tuition rising, but not at a specific rate, and acknowledged that they were unsure of the details surrounding tuition rate.
However, students also said they felt strained financially and found it harder to pay off their debt each year.
The policy paper also points out that McMaster has one of the lowest budgets for entrance scholarships in Ontario.
McMaster’s automatic entrance awards are lower than those offered at Queen’s University, University of Western Ontario, University of Toronto and the University of Guelph, for instance.
The MSU recommends that McMaster consider a monthly tuition payment plan.
Recommendations for the government include re-evaluating interest rates on student loans and making OSAP cover a larger percentage of tuition for low-income students in some programs.
Major themes in the Infrastructure policy paper include campus accessibility, transparency, deferred maintenance and student study spaces.
The SRA’s first recommendation is for facility services to oversee a new campus accessibility review with a new action plan, examining infrastructure concerns in more detail.
Regarding accessibility, the SRA believes elevator issues and the installment and repair of automated doors should be seen as priority areas for maintenance.
The policy paper also affirms that “bad weather should not be a deterrent for students to access their education.”
Another concern addressed is the lack of air-conditioning in some residences. Currently, only five out of twelve residences have AC.
During warm weather, the heat poses a risk for students’ health, as many reported experiencing heat stroke symptoms during Welcome Week this past year.
The paper recommends that all residences have AC and that Residence Life provide more fan rentals.
Another infrastructural problem is that buildings at McMaster are not as well maintained as they should be, creating a non-ideal learning environment for students.
For instance, many older buildings have broken seats and tables.
The policy paper also touches on insufficient and inefficient on-campus workspaces.
For instance, the university does not have enough group study facilities for its growing student population. Many such places are often full or completely booked.
These issues are planned to be resolved by introducing more compact book stacks to free up space.
Some on-campus spaces also lack reliable wifi.
The policy paper explains that the university is planning to create a self-reporting network tool for students to report “dead zones,” which can be fixed.
To ensure future buildings consider the needs of students, the SRA suggests that some MSU members sit on a design committee for the coming Peter George Centre residence.
“Student Engagement & Retention”
This policy paper highlights key issues regarding student engagement and retention, including student dropout rates and off-campus students’ engagement within individual faculties and services.
At McMaster, 10 per cent of first-year students do not continue onto pursue their degree. The policy paper notes that marginalized students are more likely to experience barriers to completing post-secondary education.
“[The] policy aims to utilize evidence-based research to identify gaps and targeted opportunities for particular focus groups of students, including first-year students, first-generation students, racialized and marginalized students and student groups, and commuter students,” reads part of the paper.
The MSU paper emphasizes that marginalized students should have “equitable access student success and satisfaction on campus” in response to structural barriers.
The policy paper makes several recommendations, such as the incorporation of prior-learning assessments for students who want them.
The paper also raises concerns regarding off-campus students’ engagement with respect to public transit, volunteering and community engagement.
“The MSU advocates for greater transparency and efforts by the university towards student engagement on campus and within the broader Hamilton community,” reads part of the paper.
According to the paper, commuter students face a higher risk of dropping out when they feel disengaged and disconnected from campus.
Commuter students may be restricted from developing social connections or a sense of belonging on campus.
The paper recommends creating a “centralized social hub” to address the disconnects faced by commuter students and the campus.
Additionally, the document advises the off-campus resource centre to work more to encourage campus opportunities to bolster social events while also increasing the number of resources for students who commute.
All of the policy papers be found in the “SRA documents” section of the MSU website.