Thousands of students march on Queen’s Park demanding free education

Minister Deb Matthews rejects NDP call for tuition freeze, says tuition increases will be predictable and low

Around 2,000 students marched today in downtown Toronto, to call for free and accessible education for all students.

A strong contingent of George Brown College (GBC) students took part in the march from Ryerson University to Queen’s Park with students from Brock, Guelph and York universities. Students from the University of Toronto held their own march to the legislature.

Shana Kealey, a GBC community worker student, was marching with her son Kiyan, 4, who would have normally been in his senior kindergarten class.

“I have an RESP but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough for how much the tuition is skyrocketing so we’re really hoping that we can fight the fees and make education free,” said Kealey while Kiyan chanted, “Fight the fees! Fight the fees!”

Kealey said she took Kiyan to the protest because it’s an educational experience she feels he should be part of. “I’m really trying to instil in him that he can help shape his future by these kind of actions.”

Rajean Hoilett, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario told the assembled crowd that as a racialized student from a low-income community he didn’t see himself going to university. While he’s made it, Hoilett said that there are many people that look like him that are not in universities and colleges.

“That points to a really serious issue, to a public policy that has been coming out of both provincial and federal governments of high tuition fees and then high aid on the side that just isn’t working and isn’t helping people get through the door,” said Hoilett.

Deb Matthews, Ontario’s minister of advanced education and skills development, said she heard Hoilett’s argument that tuition should be eliminated.

“I’m so proud of what we’re doing to bring in free tuition for 150,000 students,” said Matthews who said that the new Ontario Student Grant will mean families with less than $50,000 will pay no tuition.

Hoilett also said that he’s excited about the support the campaign for free education has received from members of the Ontario New Democrats (ONDP), and hopes that more elected members join the call for free education. Peggy Sattler, the ONDP’s post-secondary education critic, read the CFS petition in the Ontario legislature on the day of the march.

Several Ontario New Democrats also joined the rally at Queen’s Park, including party leader, Andrea Horwath. Horwath said that she’s concerned about where post-secondary education is going in Ontario.

“Notwithstanding what the government claims, tuition in Ontario is very expensive and students are carrying huge debt burdens at a time when it’s really hard to find work after graduation,” said Horwath. “So the stress and anxiety of that is showing itself very clearly in where lots of students are in terms of their mental health.”

Horwath said she’s worried about what might happen to tuition fees when the current three per cent cap on tuition increases expires in 2017.

“We should start with a freeze on tuition and start going from there to get things under control,” said Horwath. “Because right now, it’s going to get worse and worse and students are going to carry higher and higher debt loads.”

Matthews confirmed that the government is not looking at freezing tuition, but rather at “predictable, low increases in tuition.”

“We really believe that post-secondary education is a shared responsibility,” said Matthews. “Students have an obligation to contribute, as does their family if they’re able, and the government as well.”

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union that represents college faculty, said the protest is important because it takes on the challenge of underfunding directly.

“Ontario has the dubious distinction of providing the lowest per-student college funding of any province,” said Thomas. “This has to change. Colleges play an important role in increasing access to education, particularly for marginalized groups that have been underrepresented in higher learning for far too long.”

Mathews said that the government is reviewing the funding formula but cautions that decreasing enrolment for many colleges and universities may affect funding. “We want to protect the colleges and universities that are seeing a decline but we have to be realistic too about what enrolment will be in the future,” said Matthews.

Tiffany White, the director of education for the Student Association of GBC, said she knows the government’s not going to grant free education to students overnight.

“The fight doesn’t just stop because today finishes and we all go home and put away all our placards. No, we still keep going because if we don’t keep fighting then nothing changes.”


Thousands of students march on Queen’s Park demanding free education