How will an ‘occupation’ lower tuition fees?

You’re angry. We get it. Now offer some constructive ideas.

Drop Fees balloons by Tania Liu on Flickr

A group of students staged another pedantic tuition protest last week at the office of Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Training Colleges and Universities.

The daylong “occupation,” attended by executives from Canadian Federation of Students locals, was to protest the five per cent tuition increase expected in the fall. Armed with recycled chants and glossy placards, the group of about 20 people shut down operations for the day.

To those students, I say “well done.” Yes, if your aim was to give the minister a day out of the office, or if you sought to expedite public exhaustion with student foot-stomping, you likely succeeded. I just hope you weren’t pining for actual change to Ontario’s tuition structure.

Indeed, the occupation of Murray’s office could not have come at a less persuasive time. Coverage of Quebec student tantrums is reaching its saturation point. This latest Ontario sit-in, coupled with a recent hour-long occupation of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office, simply comes off as redundant.

Not even the provincial New Democrats, who received high pre-election marks from the Canadian Federation of Students, appear to be paying much attention. While the Liberals and NDP squabble over the budget (which requires at least two NDP votes to pass), post-secondary education has fallen to the wayside as whistle-blower protection, healthcare executive pay and income taxing at the highest levels take centre stage. Perhaps that new 30 per cent tuition rebate makes an additional piece of the pie for students a tough sell.

But even if students feel justified in their protest and want to get Ontario talking about their concerns—talking about their concerns sympathetically, that is—they need to start with something more nuanced than a glorified collective whine.

It’s not enough to claim that an investment in education is an investment in Ontario’s future. Recent unemployment rates for old and new grads prove that sort of thinking far too simplistic. And students can’t reasonably continue on with these hysterics in the name of “awareness.” You’re pissed off, and you think you deserve more money—great, we get it… over and over again at your tired annual Drop Fees rallies.

Now it’s time to look outside the bubble. Public school boards are poised to lay off hundreds and hospitals are trying to cope with meagre health care spending increases—all in response to a budget plan that left students’ tuition rebates intact. When put in context, it’s clear that dialogue has to evolve from “me wanna.”

Why do students deserve another break, and from where can Ontario make up the loss?  Maybe work on those question before attempting, yet again, to rhyme something with “McGuinty.”

Student leaders must offer up constructive ideas at their attention-seeking rallies  in order to be taken seriously. There was nothing of substance in the occupation’s press release. Yes, those cheers must be fantastically cathartic, but they don’t provide a launching point for serious dialogue.

These students would be wise to include links to its own comprehensive reports in its press releases, even if that means borrowing a tactic from organizations like the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. Otherwise, a sit-in offers nothing more than a chance for the minister to stretch his legs.

Robyn Urback is a Toronto-based writer. Follow @RobynUrback on Twitter.

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How will an ‘occupation’ lower tuition fees?

  1. The apprentice program needs to start with a total overhaul. Whom ever seems to have the keys to this jalopy is sorely out of touch; 1 example of many,small business which have to compete with large companies that get priority to classroom spaces and apprentice to journeyman ratios. It’s been this way for 30yrs. I would suggest an overhaul from the top down, since it’s been 30+ years their salary/ compensation really shows they cannot do the job anyways.

  2. What a tired critique. Not every single actions needs to be accompanied by some long policy statement. If the author has ideas post them. It took me about 4 minutes on google to see various suggestions by students related to policy. Ironically the article itself comes off as tired, worn, and unimaginative recycling of age old criticisms leveled at every social movement.

  3. The whole logic behind an occupation is to “shut down production”. In and of itself, if you occupy an office for the day and manage to shut it down, then it is a success. Tactics such as these get politician and people’s attention. A majority of people in Ontario agree that tuition fees are way too high, and especially in a time of recession, it makes sense to invest more in post-secondary. Do you really think that squeezing more money out of students, who are already facing high youth unemployment, makes sense?

    The majority of people who have participated in these actions are offering solutions, besides the 10 second sound-bites that you seem to be so fond of. Glen Murray himself suggested for post-secondary institutions to find “creative solutions” besides simply hiking tuition fees, and the majority of them haven’t.

    We need to be asking: Do we really need central administrative staff making $200,000+? Why are these institutions paying figureheads like a rector/president up to $500,000, when twenty years ago it was simply a senior professor who would take this job? Do we really need to spend millions of dollars per year on marketing per university? The cost of hydro has gone up, so why haven’t universities been more vigilant when it comes to leaving entire computer labs on all night with no students using them? I also find it ironic that MPPs in the Liberal government had no problem with austerity measures, but managed to find the extra money to give themselves a salary increase very recently.

    All in all, universities should start disclosing their numbers BEFORE a budget vote, and then we’ll start talking.

    PS. that great tuition rebate you speak of doesn’t even apply to have of students, and low-income students who already grants GET NOTHING. more students received money from the textbook and technology grant that was cut as opposed to this tuition rebate gimic

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