Tag Archives: tuition fees

International students and the Canadian state

12 Aug

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 12.08.12 PMWhen I was first involved in the student movement, one of the great victories that we had won was the right for international students to work off campus.

Prior to June 2005, international students were limited to only being allowed to work on campus.

On campus jobs are highly competitive. Most will work around academic schedules, they’re usually better paid jobs than off campus and they also tend to be more interesting. Domestic students would apply for these jobs too, making it possible that international students would find themselves out of luck for work, just because the demand on these jobs was so high.

The federal government created a task force to examine the possibility of allowing international students to work off campus and started by piloting a project in several major cities across Canada. It wasn’t long before a new off campus work permit was created and international students could seek work off campus.

The entire question of “being allowed to” work is absurd. International students come to Canada to study and are treated like oases of money: in the desert of Canadian students scraping by and funding their futures on debt, international students arrive on campus, keen and ready to learn. Sure, the great lengths they take to get there tend to be invisible to Canadians, but it doesn’t matter. They’re willing to pay three to four times the amount of money that a Canadian student wants to pay. And, without citizenship, they’ll behave. No one wants to be deported for protesting high tuition fees.

Let’s ignore the human side of this (you know, the side of where they’re far from home, many are away from spouses and kids, how none of this is just etc.). Speaking purely about money, international students have to contend not just with outrageously high tuition fees, but they also have two other threats: the fact that, at most schools, tuition fees are deregulated and that they can increase from year to year at any amount, making multi-year budgeting impossible. And two: with currency fluctuations, the worth of a foreign currency against the Canadian dollar can change from year to year. Oh, your home currency’s worth plummeted this past year? Factor that into your tuition fee costs and it becomes even more expensive.

Considering these pressures, there is no question of being “allowed” to work. International students are forced to work. The vast majority depend on their Canadian jobs to find the money to, you know, eat and pay rent.

This reality is what makes the plight of two University of Regina students so sick.

Despite promises to harmonize the system in the next year, the federal government has not yet merged the on-campus visa with the off-campus visa. Students holding one must find work where their visa allows them to work. So, if you find a shit job at Wal-Mart, for example, but the government says that your job must be on campus (and there aren’t any Wal-Marts on campus, yet!), you could get in trouble. Your employer would likely fire you, if they read the visa and realized that it applied only to on campus jobs. You might be fined.

Or, for Victoria Ordu and Favour Amadi, you face deportation.

For working a few weeks at Wal-Mart, before quitting once they realized their mistake, they risk losing three years of their university education, three years of international tuition fees, three years of being away from home. And the federal government thinks that they deserve such a harsh punishment.

In an era where Canada relies on non-Canadian workers to drive its economy through the temporary foreign worker program, and where that program has been widely abused by huge corporations, Victoria and Favour’s deportation order is clearly an attack on two women who simply don’t have access to power. Ignore Wal-Mart’s responsibility too; they clearly didn’t bother to check their visas, which they’re required to do. It’s the women’s faults.

The University of Regina has opposed the deportation order. So have the provincial SaskParty and the NDP. The support for deportation comes from the hypocritical, draconian and punitive federal government. Ministers have refused to intervene, which they have the right to, and Victoria and Favour have been living in sanctuary for more than a year.

The federal government has created an impossible position for these students: entice them to Canada to study, allow for universities to exploit them through their excess fees and restrict where and for how long they can work (work permits prohibit students from working more than 10 hours a week). After stealing so much from them, they’re then told to get out.

And all the two students want is a degree that says “University of Regina” before they return to Nigeria.

Up until recently, Jason Kenney was the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Despite the cabinet shuffle, it was under his watch that Victoria and Favour have endured the majority of their ordeal. Despite being generally vile, Jason Kenney’s refusal to step in on this case is particularly nauseating.

Kenney was himself an international student, at San Francisco’s Catholic University. After abortion rights activists fought and won the right to freely express themselves on campus, Kenney helped to lead a petition drive demanding that the word “Catholic” be dropped from the institution’s name. If the petition failed to convince the archbishop, Kenney and his band of zealots had planned to go directly to the Vatican because, why not? While a student there, he likened allowing pro-choice activists to allowing the KKK to operate on campus.

I suspect that Kenney wasn’t deported for his views. While probably despised by a sizable chunk of his classmates, he was likely allowed to continue with his activism and finish his studies, all while being in that precarious world of being an international student. And then, as Minister and despite having been given the freedom to carry out his anti-woman campaign while he was a student, he showed no sympathy for Victoria and Favour’s ordeal, instead condemning them to deportation and a multi-year jail term in various church basements.

Pretty Catholic of the guy.

Borders that have been put up in Canada and around the world are senseless, meant only to control people so that power remains in tact. International students should have all the rights and freedoms afforded to them that the Charter gives to all Canadians. While you’re living here, you should not be subject to the unjust oppression of the Canadian state.

Victoria and Favour have done no wrong. For an infraction not even as dangerous than speeding, they’re facing the ultimate punishment and there’s no, rational way to justify it.

For more information about the campaign to stop Favour and Victoria’s deportations, visit http://stopurdeportations.com/

Drawing blood from stones: the relentless tuition fee hike

28 Mar

ABasQPsmallOntario announced a new tuition fee framework today. It’s the first time that the Liberal government has changed it in seven years

In 2006, Dalton McGuinty punched students in the face with a five per cent, on average, fee increase. It was supposed to last four years, but was extended, painfully, until 2012.

During the 2011 Ontario election, the Liberals introduced a grant to help offset the burden of these fees for some students. To those of us who spent days analyzing the Liberal proposal and strategy, it was clear that they had hoped to divert some of the negative attention on their tuition policy by offering a confusing, runner-up prize.

In the same vein, the kinder, gentler Liberal party, now lead by a grandmother rather than a seemingly ageless dad, is trying to help students out.

Today, they announced that the fee increases: 5% for most programs, 8% for the programs where university administrators want to screw students the hardest, has been replaced with 3% and 5% respectively.

McGuinty’s (and now Wynne’s) fee increases were historic: they pushed Ontario’s fees to be the most expensive and they allowed for different fees to be charged to different programs. Today’s increase puts tuition on track to double under the Liberal reign alone.

Now, students sitting in a second-year elective are paying a combination of a bunch of different fees for the same class. I say “a bunch” because I stopped counting at 10 different combinations, depending on the year they started, the actual year of the class, their program of study or their citizenship. Yes, added bureaucracy is necessary to keep track of these divisions. Yes, students will pay more and receive the same instruction as other students.

This was a clever idea: charge incoming students the most (because high school students don’t protest), charge engineering students the most (because they’re way too busy to protest), charge graduate students the most (because they’re too busy rocking back and forth under their desks to protest) and charge international students the most (because Jason Kenney will deport them if they protest).

For some, it has meant an increase of more than 71%.

High tuition fees are the best example of the insanity of austerity. Despite the fact that people who are better educated will earn more and pay more taxes (thereby paying for the cost of their education), Kathleen Wynne and her Neoliberal crew don’t care about the facts. They care about privatization. They care about eliminating the public system by stealth so that they don’t have to pay for it.

Indeed, Liberal, Tory… you know the rest.

Some “student groups” call it a step in the right direction. Of course, it isn’t. It’s a smaller step in the same direction. And, when walking towards a cliff, any steps in the direction of the cliff will lead to the same result. Wynne has smaller legs than McGuinty, this is just a difference in stride.

Actual students know that any tuition fee increase is simply going to exacerbate an already crisis situation. The Liberals hope that the pressures that are created by high tuition fees will be enough to continue to keep Ontario students quiet. And, it may. The crushing combination of high fees, high rents, youth unemployment and needing to, you know, live, depoliticizes and disenfranchises.

But, there is a breaking point. The question will just be how it manifests among Ontarians.

Today’s announcement does not come in a vacuum. The sustained political pressure that students have placed on the Liberals has helped to “win” this policy. The highly unpopular 30% off grant exposed a floundering, rudderless Liberal party that realized that they were losing the war over the message. Ontario students should take some comfort in that.

But the other political context, the waves made by the student protests last year in Québec must also be considered. The impact their protests had on Ontarians, to teach that another system is possible, cannot be understated. The Maple Spring created spaces in Ontario where student activists could actually talk about free tuition fees and be taken seriously by their peers.

That’s the power of a peoples’ movement: raising consciousness and building capacity. Ontario was lucky to benefit from some side effects. Québec students will be reaping the harvest of their work for years to come, and the story isn’t anywhere near finished yet.

But the 3% fee increase is a necessary reminder: Wynne, bowing to pressure and trying to distance herself publicly from McGuinty settled on a tuition fee increase lower than the past seven years. In Québec, Pauline Marois picked the same percentage to increase students’ fees, despite the fact that she rolled in on a wave that was absolutely opposing a hike. What’s the lesson here?

The line between demands made by social movements and minor policy changes is sometimes direct, sometimes crooked and most times non-existent. Marois tricked Québecers into voting PQ and turned around and went all Charest on them. Wynne was elected as the moderately progressive alternative and has turned around and gone all McGuinty on Ontarians.

Meanwhile, students in both provinces will be paying 3% more next fall.

Political ideology is the domain of the Conservatives. Today, the remaining Neoliberal parties are populist, gauging where public interest is and governing accordingly. Under these conditions neither Ontarians nor Québecers have any chance of witnessing fundamental change. Austerity and populism has too great a control over the brains of our politicians. Instead, we’ll have to force it.

What the student movement in Québec does is reminds us that these battles, if fought and won in the streets, will be won by the people. The campaign will last longer than a semester. It’s origins will be theorizable but it’s effects can only be told in retrospect. Its existence gives hope and a path to follow.

So Ontarians, how will you play your hand?

11 clues that the PCs’ 11 Paths to Prosperity is a joke

14 Feb
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Commentary on their own satirical policy document, through tableau (Toronto Star)

While I’m not sure others did, I totally got the joke.

I saw people responding to the Progressive Conservatives’ White Paper on higher education and thought, “Boy, they’re going to be embarrassed when they realize that this is a joke.”

As the party panders to elitists, there are many clues dropped into the paper that can be hard to spot for your average Joe Blow journalist. Most Ontarians may think that Hudak’s proposal should be taken seriously.

Luckily, I’m no Joe Blow. I spent a solid six minutes identifying these clues so that you don’t have to sound like an idiot the next time you mention this plan to your local PC MPP at the Victoria Day Long-Weekend Fair. (In Georgetown, that event was called the Bang-o-rama. No one wants to look like a moron in front of Ted Chudleigh at the Bang-o-rama).

The paper, called Paths to Prosperity offers eleven paths that would drastically change how university and college education is delivered. Clue number 1 that this is a joke? One cannot take eleven paths at the same time.

Obviously penned by a staff writer at The Onion, Paths to Prosperity contains 10 other references that indicate that none of the document should be taken seriously. For example, it hilariously refers to private careers colleges as, “one of our most efficient paths to employment” (clue number 2: no they aren’t, though they are a path to lots of student debt).

The 24-page document starts off with a letter from Hudak that says, “[PSE] gives us all a chance to reach higher….” This is clue number 3: Reaching Higher has been the name given to the Liberal’s higher education policies since 2006. Had this not been written in jest, surely the pale and awkward fellow writing on Hudak’s behalf at PC HQ would have been caned by now.

Clue number 4 is that the Globe and Mail quoted the CEO of Colleges Ontario as having “lauded” the recommendation. Despite all other sectoral stakeholders agreeing that allowing colleges to slap the label “degree” on their diplomas is a stupid idea, CO’s unfettered support for anything that leads them closer to the rank of “real” administrator (like the president of Algoma University), is a clue that this document cannot be serious.

The PCs also include a graph that they cite from the Drummond Report, which Drummond cites as being from the Ontario Undergrad Student Alliance (OUSA). It represents the percentage change of several university costs over five years, in a pie graph. This is clue 5. Remember when you were young and you learned about graphs and you wanted to make everything into a pie graph even if there was no 100% total for the pie to be whole? Well, OUSA got all Grade 3 on us and made a graph that expresses several years of inflationary changes as 100% of something, then divides the pie to demonstrate that (shockingly!) professors’ salaries have been the largest point of growth. Maybe its because there has been more professors hired to handle the tens of thousands of new students in the system. Maybe its because professors get wages that have been agreed to by administrators through collective bargaining. Either way, a pie isn’t the way for an adult to represent this data. The authors must have snuck it in because it would be hilarious. Which it is.

Clue 6 is that they entirely neglected to talk about research, the core of the academic mission of all universities and, increasingly, colleges. That would be like presenting six streams to improve dairy farming in Ontario and forgetting to mention cattle feed or pasteurization. Or like analyzing this paper and pretending that it’s real.

Crazier than that, clue 7, is that they actually argue that many universities should stop doing research. You know, become more like colleges. Which makes sense in the context of clue 8, the promise to allow high school students to earn college credits from their high school credits.

With high school the new college and college the new university, we’re left to assume that in Hudak’s world, marriage is the new dating and retirement home flings are the new marriage. And then we die at 130 years old.

You probably didn’t read that far into the document, as it’s really hard to get through, but by this point, the joke is obvious.

For the few who are still reading, and who may still take this piece of satire for reality, the PCs envelop our critical faculties in the end with a black hole devoid of intellectual matter.

Their big idea is to tie student loans to the academic success of students. So, if you get As, you get more loans. If you fail, you’re out of loans. This would create a world-class system where the dumbest rich kids and the smartest poor kids could hopefully study together, breed together and cancel out the politically worst elements of society for the Progressive Conservative Party. Actually, while this is clue 9, it’s the only point that actually makes sense. A possible Freudian slip from the PC satirist author.

The penultimate clue, 10, is that they argue for elite education to cost more and regulated by out-of-touch, non-elected, unaccountable university Boards of Governors rather than government. This will mean a whole lot more rich kids will become lawyers, regardless of their thinking capacities, and a whole lot more poor kids will go to college, study online or not go to school at all.

If you were looking for the ultimate social experiment when income segmentation is intensified, the PCs got you.

Unlike Shakespeare, who littered his plays comic relief to save us from the depressing worlds of Macbeth and King Lear, the PCs have pulled a full-on SNL with Pathways to Prosperity, even down to the fact that the document runs a little long and the joke becomes tired before the end of the sketch.

Unfortunately, there will be people who don’t think this is farce. There will be people who claim to believe that these proposals would improve higher education, like Linda Franklin at Colleges Ontario, whose job is to parrot the megalomaniacal intentions of the Senecas of the world to become the Yorks of the world, at all costs to the quality they deliver.

If these recommendations were serious, they would not only not improve any aspect of the higher education system. Like Glen Murray’s hair-brained scheme “three cubed,” this White Paper would effectively block middle-income youth from universities, low-income youth from anything and give rich kids more of a free pass than they currently have.

But, it has to be satire. No one in their right mind would call a policy paper with implications such as these, a “White” paper in a non-ironic way (clue 11).

The neoliberal attacks on Québec higher education

4 Feb
Screen shot 2013-01-03 at 12.40.09 PM

The president of Université Laval has actually started his own campaign against the PQ’s cuts. It says: I SUPPORT the position taken by the president in the face of under-funding of Québec universities.

For a post-secondary education junkie like me, my move to Québec couldn’t have been better timed.

I left Ontario in June, amid inane ramblings emanating from the cerebral cortex of Glen Murray. His planned changes to Ontario’s higher education sector were outlined in the leaked document, 3 Cubed, that had been widely panned in the winter of 2012. Not one to give up after a failure, Murray repackaged his scheme and tried to shop it around again in the summer. This rollercoaster ride was giving me ulcers. Imagining Murray actually implementing his changes and further destroying Ontario’s higher education system made me want to throw my computer out of the window of my ninth floor office building and accidentally use such force that it would land on top of a bunch of dinosaur bones at the ROM, across the street. (With a good wind, maybe possible).

Luckily, Murray’s ambitions were stronger than the belief in his convictions (like all great politicians) and he jumped ship as Minister to (hilariously) run for the leader of the Liberal party.

Since October, with the elementary and secondary teachers in the crosshairs of Dalton McGuinty, all has been quiet on the post-secondary education front in Ontario.

But not so for here. Québec politics has picked up the slack where Ontario left off.

After last year’s mega doses of awesome, the combination of an election and the acceleration of semesters to catch students up who were on strike had the double effect of slowing down the student movement. Marois repealed Law 12 (Law 78) and replaced the tuition fee hike with an increase tied to inflation. For the students, both policies represented tangible and immediate victories of the work from the previous months.

The PQ is a party that is both populist and neoliberal. It bowed to the students demands not because its a party that fundamentally believes that higher education should not be bought and sold, but because the student movement made it possible for them to get elected. It was therefore impossible to immediately ignore their demands.

Once the new government settled down, though, the PQ implemented five per cent cuts, across the board, to university budgets.

With the victory of the student movement fresh in everyone’s minds, the argument flowed that the cuts were necessary to make up for lost revenue in with the tuition fee increase. While not true, the argument can be made to seem logical, and therefore, convincing. And, with university presidents and many faculty having opposed the student strike, this policy preys on divisions that already exist within the sector and weaken the bargaining position of the sector as a whole.

Higher education in all provinces is underfunded and Québec is no exception. Though nowhere near as underfunded as many university presidents claim, the intentional further underfunding by the PQ is a regressive move. Here lies the break from populism to neoliberalism: get elected, implement regressive cuts.

They didn’t stop there, though. They also cut the lifeblood of university research, FQRNT, by a whopping 30 per cent, after the applications for 2013 had already been submitted. This will fundamentally and abruptly alter research this year: professors will be expected to do just as much with less, fewer graduate students will be hired and competition will become more fierce among a group of people already competing for scare resources.

This, all while they host a summit on education to consult on the future of higher education in Québec. Similar to the Dog-and-Pony-Show of Bob Rae in Ontario in 2005, the PQ has let it be known that they prefer the current policy of tuition fees tied to inflation before the summit has finished its work.

So on the higher education continuum, so far, we have the Liberals trying to emulate the worst of Ontario’s policies and gut the best of Québec’s, which delivered them a shitkicking at the polls. Slightly to the left of them is the PQ who has basically tricked the electorate into believing they’re the “progressive” choice of the lot.

With Québec solidaire the only party with the clearest and most progressive policy out there (free education at all stages of life), they occupy the left.

This leaves the CAQ who, of course, devises a plan that is even more schemey than had been proposed by the Liberals. They argue at the summit that Québec should create two tiers of universities: one elite and one common.

The elite schools will be able to set their tuition fees at any rate and grants and loans will fill in the gaps to ensure that McGill doesn’t become overrun with rich Americans and Ontarians.

Of course, the only way that the state could actually do this is to significantly reduce the public funding offered to these schools. In Ontario, this idea floats around the tables of the Council of Ontario Universities too. Led by U of T president David Naylor, he argues for the creation of a funding model that would all U of T (and a few other schools) to deregulate their tuition fees, charge what the market can bear and become truly prestigious.

Unsurprisingly, the presidents of the the Brocks and Nipissings of the world tend to oppose these recommendations.

While Ontario is much closer to Québec in fulfilling this reality, both provinces would substantially damage their systems if they created a two-tiered system. (It’s unclear if the CAQ is ideologically in favour of creating such an elite system, or if they showed up late on the day that right-wing policies were being handed out and they were given a shitty one.)

Either way, I suspect that the CAQ’s dream of an elite Université Laval is about as likely as their likelihood of forming a majority government.

This is good news, but it doesn’t mean that the CAQ should be ignored.

In a minority government situation, there is a high possibility for the proposal of strange, regressive policies to be developed, voted on and passed.

This is why the students’ and faculty responses will be so important.

Our parents fucked us. For life.

13 Jan

This is the first time I’ve published a guest post. It flows from a conversation we had on Facebook. The pressure of high tuition fees, high student debt, high personal debt and high youth unemployment has made this story, sadly, entirely common.

Malindima Sampa

Our grandparents understood the value of the whole. With a bottom heavy population they managed to create a growing and stable society for the whole. They covered the country in grand infrastructure, built up our industries, our resource harvesting capability, our burgeoning sense of tolerance and acceptance.

In stark contrast, our parents are cold and callous punters that, through a whole life of boundless selfishness have left our generation a legacy of financial ruin and broken infrastructure. While they still pose, posture, posit and politick about whodunit and who should pay for it, they continue to inflate markets by buying things with money they don’t have and encourage us to do the same.

To add a good kick in the teeth, those university degrees that cost us $60,000 apiece, aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Not to mention that they convinced us to pursue the damned things at a time when the biggest purchase of our lives to that point was a pair of obnoxious sneakers.  Well, because we just love our Ma’s and Pa’s we drank the Kool-Aid and now that lovely couple that met in 2nd year is going to be paying off their debts until they’re 65.

But that still isn’t enough for these fuckers. They expect their full take of a pension-pie that is losing contributors by the tens of thousands a day. And just to make sure they really put the screws to us little whelps they’re going to hold onto big-paying, stable jobs as long as their overweight, healthcare-system-sapping fingers can, while stingily metering out undervalued part-time gristle and contract scraps to overqualified young people just looking to stay afloat, let alone get ahead.

Half of my heritage is from a place where there are no baby boomers. They’re all dead, killed by AIDS and the taboos associated therewith. That has truly set that once proud and prosperous society back over 100 years. If that is what happens to a society when a generation is culled, what will happen to our workforce, trade knowledge, capacity, capability, flexibility and agility if my whole generation is locked out until we’re 40? What will happen when we’re old, skill-less, and left in a world of literally crumbling infrastructure without the knowhow to fix it because we’ve been chasing internships, flipping burgers, working security and pumping gas to get by and keep up our student loan repayments while the overweight, overwrought ancients continue to suck in ever increasing numbers at the tit of our shrivelling healthcare budget?

Our parents fucked us.

For the record, I am not a granola-eating, bead-wearing, kumbaya-singing hippie.  I am not a radical leftist.  I don’t feel entitled to have access to wealth. I am a centrist; left-leaning certainly, but a centrist. I am a professional in the wrong profession, but after four years, 350 resumes, countless career fairs and networking functions with only four interviews and one job to show for it, you kind of just give the fuck up. On the bright side, I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones that is, after all, working. But I’m nowhere near getting my head above water or being free of my education and I know it to be many, many times worse for many other young people who entered the workforce in the last 10 years, and more specifically, in the last five.

I believe that Canadians take care of one another, but to do that, we all have to pitch in. Our parents were given great opportunity through the sacrifice of their own parents. Our parents have neglected to care for their own children through sacrifice and have wholeheartedly abandoned stewardship of the grand legacy left to them by their own parents. Is it too late to right the ship? Certainly. Could it be made easier, regardless? Of course, but our parents have shown time and again that they have no appetite for grand vision, monumental social sacrifice or anything that doesn’t sustain or augment their access to social programs as they age-out.

Fuck ‘em, I’m moving to Germany.

Queen’s and mental health: rendering the root causes invisible

16 Dec

It seems fitting to write about depression at this time of year.

While there are lots of triggers for depression, capitalism has ensured that our bank accounts either drive or exacerbate our emotions. During December, this translates into weeks of anxious planning to try and meet the expectations of people around us, most of whom have also been infected with the capitalist virus, eating their brains and removing the little voice that says “this obsession with accumulating shit is probably going to kill you and everyone you love.” Add to these stresses the difficulties of being a student and you have a potentially explosive situation.

Any recommendations that attempt to alleviate peoples’ mental health that doesn’t address this context will never be sufficient.

Instead, like a knee that’s been torn open by a fall, pusing and bruised, bloodied and full of sand, a recommendation to address mental health that doesn’t address the root problem is like taking a bandaid and sticking it into the middle of your dirty knee.

Even if the bandaid if of the highest quality, it’s not going to fix you up.

This was the mental image I held while reading the report “Student Mental Health and Wellness, framework and recommendations for a comprehensive strategy” from Queen’s University. It was released at the end of November and, with Idle No More exploding across Canada and my own exams to prepare for, I’ve only gotten to reading this report now.

When I saw “comprehensive” I was hopeful that indeed, this report would be comprehensive. But, like is so often the case when university administrators try to fix students’ problems, the report fails to address any of the root causes of the deteriorating mental health of students.

Of 55 recommendations, not one mentions tuition fees or oppression as having anything to do with depression. Not one.

Instead, the report is full of pilot program ideas and recommendations like ensuring that pharmacists on campus are paying attention to their clients, creating an “adopt a grandma/grandpa” program, or changing the name of Campus Security (because if you’re in crisis, a private security guard at Queen’s may be your best supporter!)

Pretending that tuition fees are not either the primary factor or a driving factor of students’ mental health is at best ignorant and at worst, a dangerous lie.

Administrators like Queen’s president Daniel Woolf are the loudest advocates, the most shameful cheerleaders of high tuition fees in Ontario. Their advocacy is driving their students’ depression. It’s embarrassing that they would even enter into such a discussion, let alone stand behind recommendations that obscures students’ real experiences.

While I was at Ryerson, we held sessions for students who were failing their courses to intervene before they would be forced to leave their programs. The most common reasons for students struggling were these: personal tragedy or crisis during the semester (death of a parent/fire/etc.), being in a program that they should not have been in (for a variety of social and familial reasons) and a variety of stresses driven by financial pressures. For students in the first category, the university’s policies made it nearly impossible for them to stay on track academically. Their crises were usually exacerbated by the fact that their tuition/living expenses surpassed $15,ooo.

Students in the third category were the highest represented at these sessions, and it was no surprise. With the highest tuition fees in Canada, high costs of living and no room for mistakes, Ontario students are under more stress than any generation before them or any other student in Canada.

God forbid you fail a class: that will cost you more than $1,000. Lose a semester and you’ve essentially thrown 80 $50 bills down a sewer grate.

What 19-year-old should have to study under such stress?

What university administrator can look at the faces of their students and not feel an overwhelming sense of shame?

Oppressive structures are also a driver of depression: institutional racism, transphobia, sexism, homophobia, ableism and social isolation (especially for international students who are also paying three to four times the tuition fees that domestic students pay). When the intersection of these oppressions are considered in tandem with the economic segmentation of Canadian society, marginalized students are dealt a double set of barriers prohibiting their successful persistence in higher education.

Pretending that these structures don’t exist is rendering them invisible, further marginalizing the students this report claims to help.

I should stress: some of these recommendations are useful and will help some students, if implemented. After all, even the most cynical exercise in public relations can sometimes produce a useful recommendation or two.

But if anyone in the university community thinks that Queen’s is addressing students’ mental health by pretending financially-driven depression and systemic oppression are not two of the biggest factors driving students’ mental health, they’re wrong.

The focus on mental health at Queen’s was sparked by six student deaths on campus in 2011, three that were confirmed suicides. In response, students were frustrated and outraged with the lack of supports on campus.

As if existing in another world, President Woolf wrote in a letter that was accidentally leaked that he looked forward to leveraging these tragedies to encourage corporate donations from companies like Bell Canada.

You couldn’t invent a response as blunt or offensive as this.

Talking about mental health is not easy and addressing students’ mental health is even harder. These issues are multifaceted. But if the drivers of student depression are not only ignored, but encouraged and exploited by university administrators, they must be held to account.

Their shameful actions are hurting the students who pay their outrageous salaries.

And this deeply depresses me.

Glen Murray’s leadership bid: a Dont Pay A Cent Event

7 Nov

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“I want ten dollar deductible
I want twenty dollar notes
I want thirty thousand liability” that’s all she wrote

I got me a car And I’m headed on down the road No money down I don’t have to worry About that broken down, ragged Ford

CHUCK BERRY – NO MONEY DOWN

Oh…..Glen.

I’ve written to you before, in this fake, diary-esque style that never actually gets sent to you by me (though I hope you do come across my advice). But, after your leadership announcement for the Ontario Liberal Party last Sunday, I thought I’d help you out a little on your higher education promise.

Seems as if you didn’t learn enough in your short stint as the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

I just read your policy for “no money down” higher education and I thought, for the good of humanity, I need to intervene.

There are a few secrets to plagiarizing well that you should be aware of.

First, if you’re going to plagiarize, do it for the right reasons. Margaret Wente teaches us that plagiarism helps her look smarter than she perhaps is. While looking smarter, she also gets to collect a pay cheque (something that many people my age would sell out our best friend for), and she has a high profile soapbox. Pretty good returns for just a little plagiarism.

Unlike Wente, your copied slogan doesn’t bring in too many advantages. Advertising a plan called “no money down” for higher education makes you sound like a TV announcer. This isn’t going to win you many fans.

Second, if you’re going to plagiarize, don’t take one of the most known slogans out there for sketchy, try-to-exploit-the-poor schemes. It’s like Hamilton saying “It’s worth the drive to…Hamilton” or the Royal Bank saying “why buy a mattress anywhere else?”

People will very quickly catch on that you’ve taken the name of your vision for higher education from any number of mortgage or car companies.

You can cancel all plans now for calling your back-to-school celebration the “don’t pay a cent event.”

And finally, if you’re going to plagiarize the name of a policy, do it for a sector like transportation or for lower taxes. Don’t do it for higher education, where plagiarism means something. Students fail for that. It’s the worst crime you can commit in the academy.

The irony of you choosing slogan from The Brick for your higher education policy is so multi-layered that it’s possible you will cause brain explosions for the people who try to grapple with your logic. I urge my academic friends to back away from their computer if they feel like a brain explosion may be imminent.

However, there are a small group of your fans who have said in the past that I’m too hard on you. And so, I would like to praise you for your small shred of honesty on this policy. At least implicit in the “no money down” promise is the promise that money will definitely be expected later. That’s at least a thousand times more clear than your 30-off doublespeak policy.

Take my advice. Change the name of your policy. And, while you’re at it, change the policy entirely. Recognize that bleeding more money from students to boost bank profits is terrible public policy, even for the Liberal Party. Students need “no money” higher education, not just “no money down.”

And, if that’s not enough to convince you, perhaps you’ll listen to Google.

TOP GOOGLE SEARCHES FOR “NO MONEY DOWN”

No money down mortgages (care of CanEquity Mortgage Canada)
“Why no money down mortgages can work” –Moneyville.ca
No money down mortgage, 100% financing
Make millions with No money down
No money down mortgages | Syndicate mortgages
No money down mortgages
Buy a home with No money down – BetterMortgages.ca
NO MONEY DOWN PROGRAM (mortgages)
“High Incident” No Money Down (TV episode 1997, IMDB)
No Money Down – Wikipédia
Legendary Lou Reed – Wikipedia
The truth about the “No money down” mortages
No money down – Kim Currie & Associates
Hotlist of zero down properties
The NO MONEY DOWN trap
How to buy a company for no money down (sort of) – Globe and Mail
No money down – Youtube
You can buy a house with no money down – Moneyville.ca
No money down real estate in Canada
How to buy a home with absolutely no money down
Information for first time home owners in British Columbia
Taking full advantage of no money down financing offers – Mycar.ca
No money down mortgage 100% financiang | MII Mortgage Group
CBC Marketplace: ‘No money down’
No money down seminar LIVE – World Wealth Builders
After School Session – Wikipedia
No money down mortgage in Canada? – Mortgage Showdown
No money down mortgage – Hants Financial
How to buy a home with little or no money down
The Publisher’s Page: No money down, rent to own
Should you go with No money down and pay off other debt – mycar.ca
No money down O.A.C – Metrotown Mitsubishi
—-> No money down? No, Money down! –The Eyeopener [about Murray’s policy]

Clearly, the students have won at framing the debate. Ontario’s record-high tuition fees are leading to mortgage-sized debt loads.

Unfortunately, a mortgage-like quick fix is not going to fix anything. It will further entrench economic disparity, under and unemployment among youth, strain mental health and ensure that higher education remains the domain of the wealthy.

Is that the legacy you want?

Ontario students: it’s time to step up

10 Sep

In 2005 during the last college professor strike, CSA organized students to protest their professors by wearing pawn hats and making signs like these.

I’m writing this listening to April 26 1992 by Sublime. If you’ve never heard it, you must. It was in Québec City where I first heard this song many years ago and, having had the FTAA protests, it’s a pretty appropriate place to be introduced to such a song.

So, while writing this, I’m inspired by songs of rioting. I just thought it was useful for you to know that.

This week, Statistics Canada should release its tuition fee data. If it’s like the past two years it will come out late next week. Or, if it’s like the 2 years before that, late October.

Québec students just had a massive victory. After the longest student strike in Canadian history, a high profile campaign that embarrassed the hell out of the establishment and sticking to principles of direct democracy, they managed to block the hike like they said they would. They also embarrassed the hell out of Jean Charest who’s next political step will have to be behind the veil of patronage that is given to all failed politicians who, despite having received a veritable shit kicking, still slide their selves into high paying consultant positions or new, high profile law firms.

Actually, if Charest receives anything less than a Senate appointment, my guess is that we can assume he was snubbed. Or maybe he’ll take over for Dalton McGuinty.

Now, for activists who believe that higher education should be free, this isn’t a total victory. The PQ will continue to increase tuition fees by the rate of inflation, but it’s much better than what Charest was promising.

Indeed, the students have won enough hearts and minds of Québecers to truly influence government.

Québec’s fees will remain relatively stable next week in StatsCan’s data. So will Newfoundland and Labrador’s, where students, united, have been successful at rolling back tuition fees at a rate unseen in any other Canadian province.

For Ontario, the data will demonstrate, again, that students will be paying more. With the seventh consecutive tuition fee increase of up to 8%, Ontario’s tuition fee gap as the most expensive province in which to study will continue to widen. On average, undergrad tuition fees will likely rise from $6,640 per year to $6,972. That’s nearly $7K *on average*.  For graduate students, their average fees will likely be around $8,184 (this number is misleading: StatsCan has admitted to excluding MBA tuition fees from this calculation because, as they told us at the CFS at the start of this practice, it skews the average…. wtf).

None of what I’ve written here, though, will be a surprise to any student who has just received their tuition fee bill.

This is the fault of neo-liberal wolves wearing some sheepskin trying to pretend that they’re of the enlightened humanist class (just read the Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities says online…) Ontario students cannot afford to keep accepting these tuition fee hikes.

And yet, “student” organizations like the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the College Student Alliance strangle any hope of activism on their campus through their confusing use of doublespeak, faulty logic and outright lies. OUSA’s last major submission boasted that they had the plan to increase quality without any additional cost. This, coming from an organization that supports higher tuition fees, is outrageous and certainly not reflecting the opinions of anyone on their campuses who aren’t members of the Young Liberals or babysitting the houses of their university administrators. The College Student Alliance was too busy playing a public relations game to support college management during OPSEU’s recent round of negotiations to even discuss quality or tuition fees any time recently on their website, though their last coherent position on tuition fees was that they should rise by (wait for it………) five per cent.

Ontario students have to take back the student organizing on their campuses. They have to approach their students’ unions, use their resources and organize through the structures that they can access. If, like at McMaster University, their General Assemblies have been taken over by Liberal/Conservative students who are only interested in raising student fees to give the administration more money for student activities, the students have to rise up and take back their students’ union.

It’s absurd that Ontario students, studying right beside Québec, pay three times more for the same education. The only difference is that students in Ontario have been betrayed by all three political parties and the popular movements that support lower fees are more organized in Québec.  So, some lessons:

College students: take back your students’ unions. College students in Québec have *free* education and you can too. You need to get organized, take control back from student union staff who have built fiefdoms around them and kick them out. It’s your money, it’s your campus and it’s your right.

University students: everything I said for college students goes for you too, other than the free education part. Get organized. Reject the rhetoric of “pragmatic lobbying” that so many Liberal-controlled students’ unions hide behind and democratize your students’ unions.

If you go to a school where your students’ union is a member of the Canadian Federation of Students, your task will be easier. Show up one day and volunteer, call a general assembly or organize an action. If you find it isn’t that simple, leave a message below and I’ll hook you up.

Québec (and Newfoundland and Labrador) show Ontario students that it is possible. It’s totally possible. All it takes is strategy, solidarity, some risk-taking, creativity and a relentless drive for fairness and justice for you and your classmates.

Welcome back to school. I too have three classes this semester and will be feeling your pain..though as a student through the University of Saskatchewan, my tuition fees this year were lower than they were at Ryerson when I started in 2003.

What will it take to make it stop?

3 Sep

I can tell when I’m being mocked.

I spent the day painting, sanding and caulking. I sat down at my computer with some tea and thought it was time to write something for this blog. But I couldn’t think of what.

Thankfully, Louise Brown at the Toronto Star came through (just like old times when I worked at the CFS). She posted this.

Now, I’m not going to spend time deconstructing the journalism of the story, or why it would be the case that this is news, now (on a Sunday of a long weekend, 3o days before the subject of the article is set to be released), but I am going to go bananas on the content of the article.

Glen Murray’s at it again. And, knowing the yesmen and yeswomen that he has built around him at the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, he’s not going to get the advice that he needs to hear.

I’ve wrote about this plan a few times. Here, for Huffington Post. Here, on this blog. In case you missed it, here’s a primer:

A document was leaked that promised to push through a suite of changes to higher education in Ontario that included:

Shortening degrees to four years
Placing 1/3 of all undergraduate courses online
Forcing schools to offer education in three semesters
Docking university budgets by 3% if this plan isn’t implemented
Boosting university budgets by 3% if the plan is implemented and the president calls Glen personally to say he’s really, really smart.

[ok, I made up the last part]

The plan was panned by nearly everyone that matters in the sector.

In a stunning show of idiocy, Murray’s Ministry continued with the plan as if nothing had happened. A discussion paper was issued and consultations occurred over the summer. But, because we *already* know the plan, we know that the results are already figured and that these consultations are a dog and pony show, similar to the one Bob Rae was torn up over by Ontario’s students, staff and faculty, in 2006.

On Sept. 30, Murray will either announce exactly what was contained in the leaked document from February, or soften it somewhat so that it’s a “good news story” full of consultation and a pleased OUSA and CSA.

Here’s what’s absolutely certain: nothing will actually come of these changes. OUSA and CSA will be pleased.

One year tomorrow I was stuck at the door of the Liberal Party platform launch at a hotel in downtown Toronto. Dalton McGuinty, with an adoring Murray looking on (I’m guessing), announced that tuition fees would be reduced for Ontario undergraduate students by 30%. One year later, we now know that the program offered a grant of less than 30% to one in nine Ontario students.

This plan is going to be similarly distorted. We know this because it’s happened with the credit transfer system promise (other than the creation of a committee, nothing’s happened) and the online institute (something happened, and it was shelved).

Heather Mallick wrote this in response to the last time this report was written about. It’s really good and I’m not going to repeat what she says.

But, I will say this.

Ontario students do not want three year degrees. This can be said with certainty as we look at how nearly all of Ontario’s three-year degrees were phased out since the elimination of OAC.

Ontario students do not want three semesters. It’s not practical. Thanks to the same government, working during the summer is a necessity. The working theory that Murray et al. had was that if students could study all summer, they could take advantage of a job market less saturated by workers, like during the winter. Except the job market doesn’t work like that. There aren’t thousands of workers taking summer holidays leaving open spots for students. Instead, they’ll be fighting each other over Tim Horton’s and McDonalds jobs in January.

Ontario students do not want to be forced to take an online class. Ever taken an online class? IT ISN’T THE SAME AS CLASS IRL. It just isn’t. Allowing students the choice to study online isn’t what’s being proposed. As Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy once said in a pre-budget consultation, no 17-year-old proudly announces to their parents that they’re going to school, and runs into his room, closes the door and goes online.

And, contrary to Louise Brown’s article’s assertion, no student wants to be one of 3,500 fucking students in a single first year class. No one. I don’t care if Jesus is playing the banjo for the duration of the course. It’s not education. At best, its entertainment. At worse, it’s the rock bottom of a system that has had the shit kicked out of it so badly by government after government that it will never recover.

Just like the current assault on teachers, this is an attempt to destroy Ontario’s higher education system. The most outrageous part is that words like “innovative” “creative” “transformation” and (my personal favourite because it makes me want to drill my fist into the monitor of my computer) “spend smarter” are taking the place of the words that should actually be there: austerity, cut backs, destruction. If the Ontario Liberals haven’t figured out how to “spend smarter” after being in office since 2003, it’s time to resign.

Each one of these changes will need to be approved by Senates, Boards of Governors and unions/faculty associations. There are enough obstacles to stop it that, if unified, students and workers should be able to. It’ll also likely be opposed by free-thinking administrators, who will likely oppose this just as much as the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

But, they going to have to oppose this with everything they have. And it’s not going to be easy, with OUSA and CSA cheer-leading from the sidelines.

Glen: I know you love the Internet and I assume you’re an avid Googler of your name. When you eventually find this, I need you to read this to yourself, internally, using the voice of your mother. Stop this hair-brained scheme. Stop it immediately. You’re going to fail or (what’s worse) you’re going to destroy Ontario’s education system. It’s the opposite of what Ontario needs, what students want and it shows that you’re dangerously unqualified for the portfolio you hold.

If you want to maintain the facade of capability, make this plan disappear.

 

Students VS Asbestos THE ULTIMATE SMACK DOWN

3 Jul

Back in April, Québec Premier Jean Charest announced $21 million for college/university grants and loans. After several months of a student strike, that was apparently the most Charest could find.

All in, CLASSE argues that of the $85 million dedicated to grants and loans, just $26.6 million in new money will reach students to offset the proposed tuition fee hike.

Students who argue for craaaazzzyyyyy ideas like lower or free tuition fees are often confronted with the question “where’s the money coming from.” While the answer to this question is usually pretty straightforward (um, from anything that’s stupid and wasteful like….corporate bailouts/Pan AM Games/G20/some account related to the celebration of the Queen/her son/his sons etc), in Québec, the argument just became really easy.

On Friday, Charest announced a boost to the asbestos industry. A large boost. A boost to the ratio of 2:1 for asbestos over students.

$58 million to be exact.

First off, anyone who passed Grade 7 and saw this shot of the winning asbestos mine, who doesn’t invest the millions into a modern version of the Globe theatre is a down-right plebe.

Secondly, if all it takes for the millions to roll out is for a town to be named after an industry, Université Laval should immediately name itself it Institute of Higher Learning Laval. But anyway.

Maybe Charest is on to something. Sure, the residents of Asbestos Québec are drooling, but does it really make economic sense to pour $58 million into 435 jobs and some local honour? Why not spend it on students?

Well.

$58M could give free university education to 23,025 students. Instead it’s paying for 435 jobs, hoping for 1000 spin off jobs and maybe enough votes for Asbestosers to vote Liberal in the next election.

Let’s look at this more logically.

After the $58 million investment…

ASBESTOS–1 year: 435 happy miners are working away like crazy. They’re thrilled to be employed. Their kids are thrilled to be in a middle class family.
UNIVERSITY–1 year: Thanks to a full scholarship, 23,025 happy students are studying full time. No economic benefit to their communities as they’ve saved enough money to avoid jobs during the school year. Instead, probably being loud on Friday nights in the streets.

ASBESTOS–4 years: ~370 happy miners are working even harder. Some have quit, some have died in unfortunate accidents, some are injured. But, the mine is pumping away. The town voted Liberal.
UNIVERSITY–4 years: just 1000 students found employment right out of graduation. 10,000 are working part-time or contract work not earning enough to contribute to the economy. 10,000 have gone on to a higher tier of education to better their job prospects, 3,025 have left Québec for Europe or similarly exciting life escapes. Each cohort has spent too much time listening to Democracy Now! and reading Marx. Those remaining in Québec are split between supporting Québec Solidaire and anarcho-syndacalism. A third of those fully employed support the Parti Libéral du Québec.

ASBESTOS–10 years: ~200 happy miners. Their kids are nearly grown up. Some can afford CEGEP! Jobs are starting to dry up as countries are slowing their demand for asbestos due to lawsuits. 30 or so are experiencing respiratory illnesses. Global asbestos deaths have surpassed 1,070,000 people.
UNIVERSITY–10 years: nearly all 23,025 students are or have been married. Most of their loveless marriages have fallen apart, with a few heart-warming exceptions. Not enough have children to buoy Québec’s birthrate. Some have created new industries but who the hell cares, they’re socialists.

ASBESTOS–30 years: all originally employed workers have died. The industry has contributed to nearly 50 million deaths world wide due to a surge in asbestos-related deaths, predicted in 2011.
UNIVERSITY– 30 years: ~20,000 of the original students are still living and working. None are voting Liberal because of how they treated youth when they were young. Charest spins in his grave.
I’ve talked myself into understanding the logic behind this decision. I hope you see it too.

You can’t fault Charest for doing what Conservatives and Liberals do best: self-preservation, sucking up to industry, not giving two shits about the future, spending accordingly.