London

Students protest government changes

College and university students gathered on campuses across Ontario Wednesday to protest funding changes imposed by the provincial government. Those changes include the elimination of free tuition for low income students.

Post-secondary changes introduced by the Conservative government anger students

Western University students protest funding changes by the Ontario Progressive Conservative government. (Kate Dubinski/CBC London)

College and university students gathered on campuses across Ontario Wednesday, including Western University in London, to protest funding changes imposed by the provincial government.

Those changes include the elimination of free tuition for low income students and allowing students to opt out of paying once-mandatory fees for certain campus organizations, clubs and other programs.  

"I think it's really important for us as a student body to come out and speak against all the cuts that [Premier Doug Ford] is doing," said Natalia Garces. 

Natalia Garces shows her support for students protesting provincial funding changes announced in January. (Kate Dubinski/CBC London)

She attended the protest at Western even though the cuts won't prevent her from completing her education. 

Garces doesn't qualify for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) that helps thousands of students pay for post-secondary education.

"I'm lucky enough it won't affect me," said Garces. "But, I have so many friends who really depend on this, who are so affected by the changes." 

Rosa Kniivila, 21, is not as lucky. She attended the protest to send a message to the provincial government that the funding cuts will directly impact her education. 

"I'm not going to be able to return to finish my degree with these cuts," she said. Kniivila is in her fourth year of history and middle eastern studies. 

Rosa Kniivila won't be able to finish her degree due to provincial funding cuts. She's also concerned about supports for LGBTQ2 students. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC London)

She also worries about students being able to opt out of ancillary fees that help support clubs and organizations on campus. 

"I'm concerned about LGBTQ students on campuses and support services for them."

Lucas Hendsbee is a graduate student at Western, studying towards a masters in sociology. 

"I can't imagine where I would be without my educational background," he said. "If it wasn't for institutions like OSAP and the funding that they provide, I wouldn't be in the position I am today." 

'Education is a right' said Lucas Hendsbee at a protest by Western University students opposed to provincial funding changes for post secondary education. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC London)

'Proud of the reforms'

The students want the government to provide more grants than loans and to eliminate tuition for all students. 

But, Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton told CBC News there are no plans to reverse the government's changes. 

"We're looking at affordability and accessibility for post secondary education. We know that is important and I'm proud of the reforms that we made," she said. 

Hendsbee isn't as confident the changes will improve affordability and accessibility as the government claims. 

"I have siblings who are younger than me, who I have a great fear are not going to have opportunities in life because they're not going to have access to education," he said. 

"I think education is a right. I think everyone should have it, similar to health care." 

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