The Ontario Government recently announced and enacted the ‘Student Choice Initiative,’ a policy intended to make a majority of university ancillary (non-tuition) fees non-mandatory. This policy raises considerable concerns for students, their families, and for the continued strength of education in Ontario and Canada as a whole. We firmly believe this policy lacked proper consultation with students and was a step backward, designed to undermine the independence and well-being of students.
The Student Choice Initiative threatens many of the services and programs provided through ancillary funding. Consequently, these would be entirely unaffordable for students to access on their own, without the shared purchasing power of their combined contributions. The across-the-board implementation of this policy without first consulting stakeholders puts the accessibility and viability of the postsecondary experience at risk.
As the future of our country’s workforce, we cannot afford to leave post-secondary students without supports that our educational institutions otherwise do not provide.
At the core of this policy direction is student representation, student governments and associations that now risk being defunded and the essential work they do being eroded and we stand in solidarity with the impassioned student advocates who are resisting this degradation of constitutionally-entrenched democratic rights.
The work of elected student associations are broad and essential, and each year, hundreds of students are elected to student associations across Ontario to ensure that our post-secondary institutions’ governance bodies are accountable to and representative of their respective student bodies; to advocate on behalf of students’ academic and professional interests, and to protect the health and safety needs of our students. These services fill crucial gaps that our institutions do not provide, such as: transit passes, health and dental plans, peer-to-peer support, and independent student media. Student associations are essential representational bodies that provide uniquely tailored services that directly impact students and increase their well-being and quality of life.
The student governments that are being defunded are the very same entities on the front lines working hard on behalf of students’ interests, doing important advocacy work that enriches the lives and wellbeing of students. The provincial government has made recent clarifications in regards to which services are deemed ‘essential’, however, student associations have been left out of this framework, despite being the organizations that initially lobbied for and who now administer these types of programs, and – most importantly – who continually fight to protect these essential services from being negatively impacted by institutional and government decision-making.
Further, while this policy currently only affects Ontario students, it risks setting a national precedent for undermining the student experience and campus culture across the country. Post-secondary students will be markedly more vulnerable under this new policy while simultaneously having a reduced voice to collectively advocate on their behalf to address these vulnerabilities. The Student Choice Initiative threatens the post-secondary student experience by undermining the financial sustainability of non-academic programming and the ability of student associations to advocate for and/or deliver these services and activities. With this, we strongly urge this government to sit down, in good faith, with student associations to better understand the important role that programs funded through ancillary fees play in supporting students, both within and outside of the classroom.
For the GSA-UW’s political position on this topic and other areas relevant to the graduate student experience, visit our Political Positions page.