Students across the province may soon have a little more change in their pockets. On Jan. 11, a letter-writing campaign was launched by the MSU and other schools belonging to the Ontario University Student Alliance with the aim of convincing the Ontario government to fund a five-year tuition freeze.
TimeOut Tuition is the actualization of MSU President Ehima Osazuwa’s much-discussed tuition platform point, an issue whose solution students have been waiting to see come to fruition.
“Tuition and financial aid and affordability has been a priority for the MSU this year, and one of the biggest things we wanted to do was galvanize a lot of student support behind ideas like a tuition freeze for the next tuition framework,” explained Spencer Nestico-Semianiw, VP (Education).
He hopes the letter-writing campaign will help gain much of this support. The letter itself succinctly explains the main concerns OUSA-affiliated schools have with the steady increase in tuition, namely the unsustainable nature of the increase and the serious financial burden tuition and debt place on students. Nestico-Semianiw hopes that students relate to the issues identified in the letter, and welcomes any who wish to write their own personal notes.
Nestico-Semianiw’s goal is to send a package of 1,000 signed letters to Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Ministries of Training Colleges and Universities and Finance. “What we’re urging the government to do is reallocate some money that’s already in the sector, specifically the tuition and education tax credits to fund a fully-funded tuition freeze,” he said. This means that not only will tuition remain stable for the duration of the freeze, but that it will be funded by the government to ensure Ontario and Canada at large remain competitive in the academic world.
“If next year’s teams don’t make this [advocacy] as big of a priority, then it’s going to be very easy for this conversation to be lost in the next framework.”
Nestico-Semianiw was quick to admit the freeze comes at a high price. It would cost the province around $106 million. The MSU and its OUSA colleagues are asking that this be replaced with money from the $340 million the government spends on post-secondary education tax credits. He explained that the issue with these tax credits is that they are not distributed in an equitable manner. Lower income families claim around one fourth the amount that higher income families do because they pay less taxes.
Another issue with the way tax credits are distributed is that none of the money is available to students or their families upfront. “It’s something you only get back after you’ve completed a year or two years or you might not receive the benefit for half a decade,” Nestico-Semianiw said.
If the letter-writing campaign is successful, the Ontario government will freeze tuition rates for five years, following the expiration of the current framework in 2017. Without this constant hike in tuition, a first-year student in the 2017-18 school year would hypothetically save approximately a total of $750 over the course of their four-year undergraduate program during the freeze. Students in a five-year program would save closer to $1,000.
While he anticipates a successful outcome for the campaign, Nestico-Semianiw acknowledges TimeOut Tuition is only the beginning of a surge of advocacy for lower tuition in Ontario. He expressed confidence in the soon-to-be-announced MSU presidential candidates, many of whom are eager to work on this project as well. “If next year’s teams don’t make this [advocacy] as big of a priority, then it’s going to be very easy for this conversation to be lost in the next framework if students aren’t at the forefront of that,” he said.
The MSU hopes to gain support for TimeOut Tuition not just from students, but from politicians, community members and even the university. “It’s definitely student-centered and student-run, but we want to show that these are ideas [others] all get behind,” Nestico-Semianiw explained. As of Jan. 12, the campaign had received just over 400 signed letters, including one from Hamilton Ward 1 councilor Aidan Johnson.
Photo Credit: Jon White/Photo Editor