Premier Kathleen Wynne visited UTM on Thursday on the fourth day of her campus tour in the province.
During her brief stop on campus, Wynne met with students, U of T president Meric Gertler, UTM principal Deep Saini, and local Liberal representatives at the North Side Bistro in Deerfield Hall, followed by a visit to a chemistry lab on campus.
Beginning at McMaster last Monday, Wynne’s postsecondary circuit led her to Western and George Brown before her UTM visit. The tour is intended to provide Ontario students an opportunity to discuss their issues and concerns with the premier.
In a sit-down interview with The Medium, Wynne discussed unpaid internships, flat fees, and sexual violence on postsecondary campuses.
The cost of postsecondary tuition was also discussed, a current focus for UTMSU following its launch of a “Drop the Fees” coalition the day before the premier’s visit.
“We will continue to work with student groups and universities and colleges,” said Wynne in regard to tuition.
When questioned about the effectiveness of the current 30% tuition rebate available to some students, Wynne argued in support of the initiative, which was introduced by the McGuinty government in 2012 at the expense of provincial Work-Study.
“The 30% tuition is a very important aspect of our commitment to students,” said Wynne. According to the premier, the rebate has since provided assistance to 230,000 students.
Wynne did, however, acknowledge disparities in flat fees across Ontario.
“We are trying to move everyone to a place where it’s more consistent,” she said.
Announced in December 2013, Wynne’s government initiated changes to the flat fee system, which will be implemented starting this fall. The first changes will change the threshold of program costs instead of per-course costs to 3.5 credits, in place of the current 3.0 credits.
As of 2016, full tuition will be charged to students enrolled in 4.0 or more.
Wynne did not mention plans to take further action on the issue.
“We’ve taken action on it,” she said. “We feel at this point we’ve moved in the direction that we needed to.”
While addressing current legislation governing unpaid internships, Wynne stressed that such employment is banned under current employment laws unless prearranged through a university or college course.
“We are looking at precarious work, […] and where do we find situations where people in the workplace are vulnerable because of the working conditions,” said Wynne.
The Premier also stressed the importance of striking a balance between the protection of workers and the ability for workers to gain experience on the job.
“Experiential learning and the opportunity to have hands-on knowledge of a particular sector is very important and we need to make sure that there are enough opportunities for students to get that,” she said.
On the eve of Wynne’s visit to UTM, the premier hosted a roundtable at Queen’s Park discussing sexual assault on campuses with members of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. Victim support services, student involvement in the creation of campus administrative policies, training, consent, and campus resources were discussed.
“Having a safe environment for students and faculty and anyone who works on a campus is a very high priority for us,” said Wynne.
The roundtable precedes an expected action plan regarding sexual violence to be released by the Liberal government on International Women’s Day in March.
Following her visit to UTM, the premier travelled to Sault College in Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday evening, where she announced more support by the provincial government for mental health initiatives on postsecondary campuses. The tour is expected to wrap up this Friday with upcoming stops on the premier’s tour.
A video of the interview is available on The Medium’s website.