October 22, 2016

Student action ramping up for November 2nd

Peter Miller

This November 2nd, students from across Canada will be mobilizing for the Pan-Canadian “Student Day of Action” for free and accessible education initiated by the Canadian Federation of Students. As discussed in the statement from the YCL-LJC on the Day of Action, students are facing attacks across the country but are also fighting back.

Along with advocating for free education, the Day of Action will also be calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to increase funding to the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) that provides funding for Indigenous students. Despite free education being a treaty right, there are ten thousand Indigenous people on the waiting list to receive PSSSP funding, and the Liberal government has not lived up to its promise to provide an additional 50 million dollars annually into the program.

Student activists have been outreaching at schools across the country, with local action committees mobilizing for November 2nd from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Student union locals have secured academic accommodation for students at least nine different schools, which will make it easier for students to walk out of class without facing academic penalty.

In Ontario, last spring, the Liberal government announced their “free education” student grant, which in fact, does not provide a grant that’s the full cost of tuition fees for low income students and instead opens the way for the further privatization of education, as explained in this article. This winter, the Ontario government will be releasing a new funding formula for universities, with the risk of deregulating tuition fees. To push in the opposite direction, students across Ontario have been active gathering petition signatures for the fight the fees campaign, calling for free education, grants instead of loans, and removal of interest from existing student loans. In Nova Scotia, where tuition fees were deregulated last year, students at King’s College just won a major victory, stopping their Board of Governors from increasing tuition fees by 1,000 dollars.

The Canadian Federation of Students recently released their report on the case for free education across Canada. Free post-secondary education would cost 10.6 billion dollars, or only 0.6 percent of GDP. A progressive tax system and redirecting military costs, at over 20 billion dollars a year, could provide universal education for all. Seventeen countries in the world have free education, and as stated in the report:

“Today’s momentum for free tuition tells us that students have power. Governments are turning to models of free tuition because students (and their allies) have mobilized and made a persuasive case to the general public. We can do this across Canada.”

It is the role of the student movement, including local mobilization committees, local student unions, the Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ), and the Canadian Federation of Students to come together after the Day of Action and take steps toward escalating action, to make free education a reality across the country.

In Chile, hundreds of thousands of students have mobilized over the last several years in mass rallies and strikes at local colleges and universities for free education. The Chilean government is now in the process of implementing free education and students are still pushing on the street. It’s only from militant and united action like this, that students can overcome attacks from governments and big business on public education and eliminate tuition fees and student debt.

Peter Miller is a student activist at the University of Guelph and the chair of the YCL-LJC Student Commission.

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