Well that’s it folks, the summer is over and it went by quicker than any of us likely would have imagined. For the members of OUSA’s Steering Committee and Home Office, the summer is a time for planning and now that summer is over, it is time we hit the ground running. We have a packed schedule for the coming year, but I think it is safe to say that we are ready to hit the ground running.
Our steering committee has selected OUSA’s advocacy priorities for the coming year and we are looking forward to start making some positive changes for students in Ontario. This year, OUSA will be working toward six major priorities:
- reallocation of tax credits and improvements to student financial assistance;
- internships and work-integrated learning;
- mental health;
- teaching quality;
- open-access educational resources;
- protecting the rights student unions.
In the past, OUSA has worked on reallocating $340M in education tax credits and will continue to make this one of our most important priorities. This is Ontario’s single largest investment in post-secondary education which is not benefiting students as must as it should. This will go alongside constant improvements which we always seek for Ontario’s student financial assistance programs. Outlined in our provincial elections platform, OUSA would like to see more up-front grants, expanded eligibility for the 30-Off Ontario Tuition Grant (OTG), and the extension of OSAP eligibility to part-time students.
Voluntary student unionism is also something that OUSA has worked on in the past. Recently, the National Post published an article on voluntary student unionism in Australia (http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/08/26/bystrzycki-heinrichs-student-union-membership-should-be-voluntary-in-canada/) and we cannot stress enough how detrimental this would be to students in Ontario. OUSA’s member schools provide vital services for students including, but not limited to: health insurance, bus passes, student support services and so much more. On top of all this, student unions act as the primary student advocates not only to their university administration, but also to their local communities, provincial government and occasionally the federal government. This is a value to students we will always continue to fight for.
Through OUSA’s commitment to paid internships and work-integrated learning, OUSA will strive to enhance the broader learning environment for undergraduate students in Ontario. We will continue to work alongside the provincial government to work on the development of paid work opportunities in order to enable students to gain experience in their area of study.
Mental health has always been an important issue for universities in Ontario. This year, OUSA will reaffirm its commitment to strong mental health supports for students and will work to make sure supports are not only available to students, but that those services are both effective and accessible.
It is the mission of OUSA to provide an accessible, affordable, accountable and high quality post-secondary education. It is no surprise that alongside this vision, this year’s Steering Committee has made teaching quality at our member schools another one of our main priorities. This year, Steering Committee will work to make sure that research priorities do not outweigh the instrumental value of good teaching quality, and stress the importance of an effective classroom environment.
Lastly, open access educational resources are a brand new advocacy priority for OUSA. Provinces like British Columbia have led the way on this initiative and have made textbooks and course materials for students available for free on the internet. This is an investment toward the education of not only undergraduate students, but the entire province. OUSA believes that Ontario should follow suit.
Steering Committee and Home Office definitely have a lot of work to do this year, but we are looking forward to advancing these priorities and improving the quality of undergraduate education in Ontario.
September will be an extremely busy month for OUSA and you can expect to see us at Trent-Oshawa, Laurier, Waterloo, Western, Queen’s, McMaster and Brock for campus visits. I am really excited to meet with students and faculty from all our member schools and begin collecting data for our upcoming policy papers. We have our work cut out for us, but by November 7th, Steering Committee members and Home Office will have gathered feedback from our 7 member schools and will have drafted policy papers for approval at our Fall General Assembly on student health, accountability and student mobility.
Well, that’s all from me!
Until next month,
Vice-President External of the University Students’ Council (USC) of Western University