On February 14, the UTMSU held an emergency assembly for students to discuss possible options to combat the provincial government’s changes to OSAP, and the new student-choice initiative.
UTMSU VP External Atif Abdullah gave a presentation on the government-lead changes, which he said would impact each and every student.
He also denounced an idea put forth by U of T President Meric Gertler to bring in more international students to act as a “buffer” for the government’s 10% tuition cut. “Bringing in students without providing ample resources just to use them as a buffer to cover up revenue losses is pretty heartbreaking and a shameful thing to do for the university.” Abdullah made a note on the lack of resources the school would have if they enrolled more international students.
The VP external also spoke about the importance of having an interest-free grace period after graduation to act as an aid for students. He acknowledged that “OSAP itself is not a perfect program, but it went a long way to helping those that needed access to post-secondary education.”
Abdullah spent a substantial amount of time explaining the student choice initiative, which would allow students to opt-out or opt-in to certain services such as The Medium, the International Education Centre, and the Centre for Student Engagement, among others.
The student-choice initiative has been seen in New Zealand, however the only way student unions can exist is as for-profit organizers, meaning they act more as a business than student unions here do. However, Abdullah stated that the UTMSU believes “none of the services offered by [the] student union should be making more off [students]” because of the “already-high” tuition costs.
Abdullah stated in the meeting: “The goal of being here today is recognizing that our student life […] will take a hit next year […] we are going to lose a lot as students, as a community on our campus. We want to pose the question today, how are we going to work together? How is your student union going to work for you?”
In terms of Action items and what can be done, the assembly brought up numerous ideas on how to protest the prospective changes. A popular idea among those at the meeting was to send mass emails and call local members of provincial parliament (MPP) to voice dissent. Going on strike, silent protests, and planning sit-ins at governmental offices were also suggested by multiple students. Temporarily shutting down some of the services which students will be able to opt-out of in order to show their importance was another proposal.
Another batch of proposals centred on doing research and understanding which services students cared about. That way, the UTMSU could focus on promoting the services that students deemed essential.
The UTMSU will be hosting another meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the implementation of the presented ideas.