Students ready take to the streets to fight high tuition

George Brown College grants academic consideration to students who attend the National Student Day of Action on Nov. 2

After months of planning, students at George Brown College (GBC) are set to join their peers across Canada on Nov. 2, the National Student Day of Action, to protest for accessible and equitable education.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 64 per cent Canadians, or 11 .7 million people, have at least one post-secondary qualification.

With more than half the country investing in education, along with the influx of international students, employment and quality of life should be at its peak. Yet, according to the National Graduates Survey (NGS) in 2013, nearly 43 per cent of students were in debt, with the number growing steeply each year.

For college students, the average debt was $14,900 according to the NGS while loans for both bachelor and master’s graduates were just over $26,000.

“Today, because of high tuition fees, students, especially indigenous, racialized, queer and trans students and students with disabilities are prevented from accessing public education,” said Bilan Arte, the national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, the national student organization that is co-ordinating the protests.

“Free education is not just free tuition,” said Steff Pinch, a staff member at the Community Action Centre (CAC), at George Brown. “This protest is to answer this question ‘what does accessible education look like especially to those pushed out by the system—the First Nations, Inuit and Métis and LGBTQ students?”

International students arriving in Canada for a better life are bearing the brunt of the tuition. At George Brown College, the base tuition for international students in diploma, certificate or post-graduate programs is $13,520 for two semesters.

“What we believe we can get out of the protest is OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) for international students, elimination of the $750 fee for international students (and) a national fee strategy and to be included in new college and university funding strategies,” said Elizabeth Orbe Donoso, another CAC staff member.

Michelle Pettis, the CAC co-ordinator, agreed with Pinch and Donoso adding, “we were at the residence move-in, frosh week, orientation week, clubs fair and have done classroom talks. The campaign doesn’t start and end with us, it’s a student movement.”

In Toronto, colleges and university students have collaborated through a Toronto Action Coalition to share updates on the day of action and plan logistics.

For George Brown students, the day of action will begin with a free breakfast for students at the St. James Kings Lounge at 10:30 a.m. The Student Association (SA), which funds The Dialog, has booked four buses, three of which will leave from St. James at 11 a.m. and one from Casa Loma to Ryerson University.

Students from George Brown will join students at Ryerson and march towards Queen’s Park. University of Toronto students are holding their own march that will converge at the provincial legislature at 2 p.m.

There there will be a large rally, but also a number of heated tents that will serve food and where there will “teach ins” about education justice according to Pettis.

“We want a lot of media attention because we know realistically the government is not going to be like ‘here’s free education’,” said Tiffany White, the SA’s director of education.

The administration at George Brown College has granted “academic consideration” to students attending the protest according to an email obtained by The Dialog from Laura Jo Gunter, the senior vice president, academic to faculty at GBC.

The email states that academic consideration means that faculty consider a student’s request to miss class that day, without academic penalty. The decision to accommodate a student’s request for academic consideration is at the discretion of the faculty member.

Students must approach their instructor ahead of time to seek permission and students attending the rally should receive a letter from the SA confirming their participation.

With files from Mick Sweetman

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Students ready take to the streets to fight high tuition