I’m writing to inform UTM students that the administration does not care about student debt and they definitely do not care about listening to student voices.
This past Thursday, the members of Campus Council, surrounded by a ring of protesting students, voted to increase parking fees by 3%, meal plan fees by 1.5%, residence fees by 5.5%, and food retail prices by 1.5%. We at UTMSU knew this vote was taking place this Thursday once we received notice of the agenda the week before. We quickly organized and started collecting petitions. We were able to collect over 1,400 signatures from students in a matter of two days. We organized a rally around campus where we were able to gather close to 70 angry students at the meeting. We stood diligently for two hours as the council went through the process of the agenda. It is important to note that before this meeting there were seven students who requested rights to speak about the particular motion. When we arrived at the meeting, we were told that the Council’s secretary was not in receipt of any such requests and therefore our voices would not be heard. When it came to the motion we were only granted three minutes of speaking time in total. After I spoke, the vote took place and majority of the Council voted to accept these increases. The fee increases will be in effect as of May 1.
The implications of these increases will add on to an already struggling student congregation. Students at U of T pay the highest tuition in Canada. After a brief fee freeze in Ontario in 2006, our tuition has increased every year. Last year, our fees rose 3–5% for domestic students and 10–11% for international students. This year our tuition fees are set to increase again. Student debt is also at an all-time high with students incurring OSAP debt and credit card debt. Students who take loans end up paying more for tuition, given the interest incurred on the loans. Approximately 60% of the student population on this campus is on OSAP, a statistic well known to the university. The increase in fees also has an impact on students’ academic experience as one is constantly worried about paying exorbitant fees. If the administration cared about student debt and what students go through, why would they keep proposing these increases and adding to student stress? The mental health of students seems to be a rising concern for the administration. Well, surprise, surprise—not having enough money for education is one of the core factors.
Students have to eat every day and now with an increase to the already high food prices, it puts a lot of students at a disadvantage. We can predict that the membership of our Food Centre will increase with this price hike.
UTM is a commuter campus and a number of students live far away where public transportation is unavailable, so they are forced to drive. A number of students who drive are forced to park off campus in places like Erindale Park, South Common Mall, and Square One because they cannot afford to park on campus. Even when they can, it comes at a very high cost. With these increases we expect a number of students to start parking off campus. We know there is a need for more parking but we do not believe students should front the cost for such capital projects.
As for residence and meal plans, these fees affect international students the most. First-year international students come here and have nowhere else to live. International students already pay ridiculous amounts in order to study here at U of T. On average, an international student pays $35,000 in tuition fees alone. Now, they will have to pay more to live and to eat. This adds pressure on international students to excel and to complete their degree in the shortest amount of time, because their families cannot afford to pay more. This has a direct impact on their mental health.
We did this rally because we wanted the voices of students to be heard. There are four student seats with two seats belonging to undergraduates on Campus Council. On the other governing bodies, there is more student representation, but they are drowned out by administrative, faculty, and community voices. The governance structure here disenfranchises our students.
Moving forward we will first engage the student population to see what they would like to do. We will focus on governance reform and on fighting the increases to tuition fees. We as students on campus have been getting the raw end of the stick for a very long time. We want to see reform that places student needs at the forefront without harming students negatively. We also want to get more students engaged in the Drop Fees Coalition. We meet every Wednesday from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Student Centre Green Room. We want students who are angry and students who want to see change to join this coalition and help us as we continue this fight for fairness, because it is not over yet. It just started!
UTMSU VP external