Student voices shouting “Education is a right, we will not give up the fight!” and “Students, united, will never be defeated!” filled Gould Street Wednesday as students walked out of class and gathered to protest the Progressive Conservative government’s cuts to education.
In January, under Premier Doug Ford’s leadership the provincial government announced cuts to tuition, OSAP grants and opt-out options for non-essential campus fees.
Ryerson tuition will be cut by 10 per cent which will result in a loss of $30 million for the school. Most students will only be eligible for repayable loans, while low-income students will now have to take on a mix of grant and loans. Students will no longer have an interest-free grace period of six months upon graduation.
Students are speaking out against the changes, saying they will negatively affect low-income and marginalized students’ access to education, as well as student groups and services due to lack of funding.
The walkout was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and at least 17 schools province-wide participated in the walkout, including the University of Toronto and York University.
While students held signs with slogans such as “Grants not loans,” and “Defend the right to organize,” student leaders took the stage to speak.
President of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), Maklane deWever, was among the speakers. “This is just the beginning,” he said to the crowd. “If we say this is, ‘What? Not OK! Enough is enough is enough,’ they will get the message.”
Leizl Yance, president of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), and one of the organizers of Ryerson’s walkout, thanked students for showing up and proving to the government that students don’t want these changes.
“What [the provincial government] didn’t realize is that students aren’t gullible,” Yance said. “We know better, and we are too smart to be deceived by the dishonesty of the Ford government.”
In an interview with the Ryersonian, current vice-president equity of the RSU, Karolina Surowiec, said she attended the rally to show her support for the marginalized communities that will be greatly affected by these cuts.
“The OSAP cuts, one thing that they really do is they hurt marginalized communities and the communities that need it the most,” she said. “Those people need this money to come to Ryerson, so without that it’s taking away their education.”
As the speakers continued to rile up the crowd, students showed their support by enthusiastically cheering and chanting.
“Ultimately, I think free tuition is what we need. Otherwise university is just going to remain a class barrier that keeps people out of jobs that they can sustain themselves with,” said Benjamin Copeman, a business technology management student and rally attendee.
He said he hopes the rally will raise public awareness beyond just university students and that in order for these changes to be reversed, everyone has to be well-informed and vocal.
“I’m here because, like a lot of the students at Ryerson, I take OSAP and cuts to OSAP are extremely damaging to me and so many other peoples’ ability to get an education,” Copeman said. “So, I’m standing up for myself and in solidarity with other students.”