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An online job portal and the provincial government have responded after Ryerson Students’ Union members interrupted a joint event on Wednesday.
Magnet Today’s head says he understands the students’ point of view when they stormed the stage to speak out against high tuition fees but did not voice support for their cause.
“We’re at an university, and everybody has a right to express their opinions,” Magnet executive director Mark Patterson said Thursday.
“We all believe in free speech and are very fortunate to be in a country that allows that.”
On Wednesday, RSU vice-president for education Jesse Root and three other members hijacked Magnet’s event at the Digital Media Zone to broadcast their own message.
When Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Reza Moridi was announcing funding for the job portal, Root spoke out against high tuition while three others held up a banner that read, “Ontario: connecting students to debt.”
Ryerson president Sheldon Levy attempted to stop by them by saying, “Thank you, thank you.”
When asked about the incident, Moridi did not specifically address it, but reiterated the province’s assistance programs, saying Ontario is “absolutely committed” to making education accessible.
“This is exactly why our government introduced the ‘30% Off Tuition Grant’ in 2012, which helped approximately 230,000 college and university students in 2013 to 2014 alone,” he told The Ryersonian‘s in a statement Thursday night.
Moridi said Ontario has “one of the most robust” assistance programs in Canada, with more than $1.1 billion provided to students each year, $800 million of which are non-repayable.
“As well, once all government supports are factored in, the students with the greatest need pay substantially less tuition and virtually no student pays the full sticker price,” he said.
Root said Wednesday universities connecting students to jobs through a network like Magnet Today is beside the point as high fees make post-secondary education inaccessible for many.
“They can’t pay for their education, they can’t be connected with jobs because they can’t be here,” he said.
“We’re trying to understand why the government needs to really connect students with jobs-which is important — but first, they’re connecting students with debt.”
In an interview Friday morning, Root said current legislation allows tuition to increase 3 to 5 percent for domestic students and has done that for the past nine years.
He added there is no legislation regarding the fees paid by international students, whose soaring fees have made Canadian education in accessible to foreigners.
“If you talk to any international student on campus, they tell you they pay more than three times the amount as a domestic student,” Root said.
There are no known studies on the number of Ontario students who are denied university education because of high fees.
Magnet is the result of a collaboration between Ryerson and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to help students and new immigrants battle unemployment and underemployment.
The million-dollar project was created in early 2014 and is funded by Moridi’s ministry.
Magnet is facilitated by WhoPlusYou, a technology developed by Ryerson graduate Doug Walker with the assistance of other Ryerson students.
Levy’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
By Sissi Wang, Laura Calabrese and Daisy Badu