The fight for free education continues


Students spray paint Gould Street at Ryerson University. (Courtesy of Megan Stephens)

Post-secondary students across Canada plan to rally today for the National Day of Action as part of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) ongoing “Fight the Fees” campaign.

But the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) will be keeping a low profile during the event.

The student day of action for free education is meant to mobilize university and college students to speak up about the rising tuition fees and student debt, in a decades- long effort to get free education in Canada.

At Ryerson, the rally is being supported by the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) and various CFS appointed officers through schools across Ontario.

Ryerson used to show strength in numbers from the “Freeze the Fees” campaign, a joint effort between the RSU and CESAR, aimed at freezing the rising tuition fees.

However, the RSU has not participated in any events related to freezing or fighting the fees since the 2014-15 election year.

Victoria Morton, RSU’s vice-president of education, says that while tuition fees are too high and rising quickly, the RSU believes it is too important of an issue to “continue to put resources into the campaigns.”

“The CFS-Ontario has been running essentially the same campaign to lower tuition fees for 30 years and not once have tuition fees lowered in Canada.” says Morton.

Instead, the RSU plans to take a policy and research based approach to their advocacy this year, including direct lobbying efforts, to work hand-in-hand with the CFS’s and CESAR‘s approaches.

This approach has been especially successful. This year has already been an empowering one for student action with the introduction of the new campaigns combatting sexual violence and the Ontario Student Grant.

Both campaigns are a result of student lobbying and action.

“I believe our most important victories have been won not with backroom talks with government,” says CFS-Ontario chairperson, Rajean Hoilett , “but a careful balance of formal lobbying efforts and membership mobilization to show that students are a political force in their own right.”

This year, the rally will begin at Ryerson with a free breakfast that moves on to performances and speakers with the theme of access and affordability of education. It will be followed by a march to Queen’s Park.

Students from across the province will gather to demonstrate to the provincial government the urgency of having affordable education, says CESAR president Rabbia Ashraf.

“Access to education is becoming more and more a privilege of those that can afford the upfront cost of tuition fees,” says Ashraf. “There are too many students taking on insurmountable amounts of debt to fund their education and we need to do something about it.”

Through ongoing lobbying efforts, the CFS presents to the government ideas and policy proposals, trying to win change from inside Queen’s Park and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. But they also know there’s strength in numbers.

Both Hoilett and Ashraf agree that it is important for Ryerson students, like students across Canada, to come out for the National Day of Action to support access to education that is not strictly for those who can afford the cost of tuition fees.

“I believe that access to post-secondary education is a right,” says Hoilett. “Not a privilege to those who can afford it, and I expect to keep fighting for barrier-free access to college and university long after my own graduation.”

Over 40,000 students across the province and 8,000 Ryerson students have signed the Fight The Fees petition.

The rally was to begin on Gould Street at 8 a.m. with a free breakfast followed by a march to Queen’s Park at noon.


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