Toronto

University, college students walk out of class to protest Ontario's funding changes

Students at colleges and universities across Ontario walked out of class Wednesday to protest against the government's changes to post-secondary funding, in what organizers called an escalation of student action against the plan.

PC government eliminated free tuition for low-income students in January

Wednesday's protest was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students' Ontario chapter and was said to involve more than 17 school campuses.  (Grant Linton/CBC)

Students at colleges and universities across Ontario walked out of class Wednesday to protest the government's changes to post-secondary funding, in what organizers called an escalation of student action against the plan.

The Progressive Conservative government eliminated free tuition for low-income students in January and made several once-mandatory student fees, such as those that fund campus organizations and clubs, optional.

Wednesday's protest was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students' Ontario chapter and was said to involve more than 17 school campuses. 

The group is calling on the province to provide more grants rather than loans and to eliminate tuition fees for all students. It is also calling on school administrators to pressure the province to reverse the changes, saying they are not "absolved of responsibility in this whole issue."

"We want to diversify our tactics," Nour Alideeb, who chairs the organization, said about the decision to stage a walkout.

'Thousands of dollars in debt'

"We've been seeing rallies and marches and so forth, we've had town halls, students are organizing community action and things like that and now we want to bring it to campus, where our local administrations are, where we can show solidarity between faculty, between staff."

While the group has been able to meet with provincial legislators of all parties, neither Premier Doug Ford nor the minister of training, colleges and universities have agreed to a meeting, Alideeb said.

It's going to mean that I personally can't go to school next year.- Alexxus-Leigh Newman

A crowd of students and supporters gathered outside Toronto's Ryerson University around midday, hoisting signs and chanting their disapproval of the tuition changes. 

"It's going to mean that I personally can't go to school next year," said Alexxus-Leigh Newman, a second-year English student.

"It's also going to mean that a bunch of other students aren't going to be able to go to school or (will) have to go finish school in thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt that they're never going to be able to unbury themselves from," said Newman, who is Indigenous and from a low-income family.

She said actions such as walkouts can put pressure on governments, citing the effectiveness of the 2012 student strike in Quebec in overturning planned tuition increases.

Minister's office did not immediately respond

Seyon Raveendrarajah, in his first year of Ryerson's engineering program, said students were taking time to protest even in the lead-up to mid-term exams because this is a significant issue. 
The group is calling on the province to provide more grants rather than loans and to eliminate tuition fees for all students. (Grant Linton/CBC)

"I think it's better to fight back," he said. "If there's enough people, they have to listen to us at one point."

The minister's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The funding changes, which were announced in January, also include a 10 per cent tuition cut for the upcoming school year, with schools expected to absorb the loss in revenue.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said he hopes the government will listen to the backlash from students.

"I know in my own riding, at the University of Guelph, students are concerned about the loss of our campus radio station, campus newspaper, and just services that support students because that funding won't be there anymore," he said.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the changes aren't going over well with families, either.

"It's making it harder it harder for families, it's putting more debt on families, it's going in the wrong direction," he said.

The previous Liberal government had increased the number of grants and made it possible for low-income students to attend college or university free of cost.

Under that program, low-income students could qualify for grants large enough to cover the full cost of tuition under the previous plan, but now a portion of the funding they receive will be a loan.

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