by Hani Yassine
The Lance – Arts & Culture Writer
You likely saw the posters splattered across campus, with an immense number of them placed in the CAW Student Centre where there’s a great influx of foot traffic on any given day. The words ‘National Day of Action’ are in giant font, with a red background showing a woman shouting into a megaphone. As an event aiming to tackle the ever-rising tuition fees that can break one’s bank before they purchase their first book, it is a poster that says, “we mean business”, practically demanding that the students’ voices are heard, and if you were at the CAW on the afternoon of Feb. 1, you could not avoid the noise.
It was there where a crowd of roughly 50 people were concentrated in the commons area. They held signs that said, “fight the fees” and “free education now”, and wearing t-shirts that carried the same sentiment, all behalf of the Canadian Federation of Students who have spearheaded this movement for the past few years. You had student activists voicing their frustration and disdain towards the rising costs enforced upon domestic and particularly international students. Chants were being made to rile the small crowd into joining the fight while other students looked on in apathy. Finally, they mobilized across the campus, keeping to their energy and determination well until they returned to the courtyard of the CAW, where they spoke about the issue some more and…
Supposedly that was it?
Despite the crowd doing their utmost to raise awareness of the situation, there was little, if any in the vein of action, which is strange when the event is labelled as a national day of action. This is not to undermine the purpose of the movement because it is a battle worth fighting. Based on a Global News article from September 2016, tuition rates have increased 40 percent over the past decade. Upon looking at Statistics Canada, the average tuition fee of the current academic year for domestic full-time undergrads is at $6571, a 3.1 percent increase from last year. What is even more egregious, however, is the international student rate, where foreign students are expected to pay an average of $25,180 as a full-time undergrad, nearly quadrupling the amount for the exact same amenities.
On top of being straight exploitative, it places the post-secondary economy in an awkward situation where schools come to rely on international recruiting. A clear-cut example would be the University of Windsor itself, where most students are of an international status. One can’t help but wonder where the funds are allocated, whether it’s towards the continuous upgrade in campus infrastructure or administrative members lining their pockets. Nonetheless, there is a lack of transparency which should be highlighted.
This year’s protest appropriately had international students front and centre. According to Admira Konjic, the VP of Student Advocacy for the UWSA, a critical reason why an international student is charged extraordinary fees is due to a lack of regulation.
“Domestic fees can only increase between two to five percent at any time, but international students go from 15 to 30 percent at any time because again they are not regulated,” Konjic said.
Upon considering the statistics, it makes a recent move from the University of Toronto to be quite admirable, as they have recently slashed tuition fees for international graduate students down to the domestic fee, which is at least a $10,000 decrease. It would be lovely for this initiative to start a trend in schools across the province, and subsequently across the country. Yet this still feels like something of an anomaly. This is one post-secondary institution out of thousands in Canada, affecting one group of students in a particular field of study, and when you consider the fact this happened prior to the National Day of Action, you can’t help but wonder if the fees are truly being fought at all.
According to Konjic, the one change which has occurred as a direct response to the campaign is OSAP providing additional grants to students from low-income households. While this is considered a “victory,” it is winning a battle in what has otherwise been a one-sided war. The Fight the Fees campaign has apparently shifted its direction towards student fairness, yet you had protest signs literally saying, “free education now”, which can also be found on the CFS website as a hyperlink to join the movement. At this stage of the game, where tuition rates have done nothing but increase as time moves forward, the idea of free education increasingly becomes that of a pipe dream that feeds off the naivete of students, which only ends up putting the CFS’ integrity in question. Alas, this is not the only thing that does so.
Among the chief objectives described in the CFS’ website, on top of universal access to post-secondary schooling, is education justice. It is here where it makes a rather bold claim that universities are disproportionately pushing out indigenous members, racial minorities, and queer/trans people among others, without offering any statistical data to back up this point. Konjic says the statement is according to CFS representative Trina James, yet she conceded this claim could not be fully validated. The CFS likely have the right intentions in mind here, but when you make a claim such as the one above, you need to be ready to reinforce it with data that should be publicly available. But like the universities they oppose, some of what they’re selling finds itself enshrouded in secrecy.
As a result, the National Day of Action brims with irony. You have students protesting fees they’ve already paid for, trying to get free education in a system where it’s becoming increasingly impossible to make that a reality since fees know no other direction but up. To have the sole victory be the OSG grant for low-income students is equivalent to landing a punch on a boxer the moment before you’re pummeled into the ring. But what was perhaps the most ironic was the march around campus. All students Feb. 1 were granted academic amnesty, so they could attend the protest free of consequence. In other words, you did not have to attend class that day. But as the march around campus began, it was rather barren on that brisk sunny day, likely because students were in class during this time.
It is the student movement in a nutshell: raise as much awareness as possible and shout until your voice gives out. But at the end of the day, your ass is headed back to class. No new policy is integrated, no significant changes are made.
We tend to forget that a university is nothing without its students. Action would include not paying them a dime and pursuing education through independent means. Action would include removing their prime source of revenue in a collective fashion so that institutions are forced to listen and accommodate to a brand-new set of needs and ideas. If you so desire, you can educate yourself fully and apply what you learn to practical situations, none of which ever truly requires a classroom or a piece of paper with your name on it. It sends a strong message each student is very much capable of, but nobody is willing to sacrifice.
Obviously, it is rather a radical notion, but quite frankly we now live in a time where a degree does not hold the same weight as it did decades ago, partially since the amount of universities in Canada has increased from a few hundred to a few thousand. While people are attending university now than they ever used to, there aren’t enough positions for pending graduates to fill by the time they complete their studies.
In any case, if there is one thing this current method has proven, it’s that it’s not working all too well. While we are students, the moment we make a payment towards tuition we also become consumers, and if there is one thing a consumer can do as a form of protest, it’s speaking with their wallet.
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