Policies

One of OUSA’s major strengths is its ability to provide educated solutions to government in the form of thoughtful and carefully crafted policy. Not only do they form the backbone of our advocacy initiative but they are also at the core of the mission and goals of the organization and contribute to its image as a thought leader in post-secondary education. Throughout its history OUSA has covered topics ranging from high-level vision and system design, all the way down to details of student financial assistance and funding.

Twice a year, members of OUSA from all of its schools come together to debate and approve the policies that will guide the organization for the coming years. The policies are created by students for students and form the basis for all the work we do here.

System Vision

OUSA’s System Vision policy is a broad based look at the structure and function of Ontario’s post-secondary system, both in regards to its short-term and long-term development. Throughout the past decade, Ontario has seen unprecedented growth in undergraduate enrolment across universities and colleges, successfully achieving the highest provincial post-secondary attainment in Canada. However, some of this growth has created issues surrounding the accessibility, affordability and quality of education. Students recommend that the province develops an effective and balanced funding model, commits to a moderate differentiation policy, promotes sustainable capacity expansion, and returns the university sector to one that is publicly funded, as opposed to publicly assisted.

Open Educational Resources

OERs are broadly defined as educational resources that live online and are designed for anyone to openly share, revise and create material. The most recognized and relevant example of OERs are open textbooks. Often, these textbooks are designed in a way where instructors can remove chapters, replace older examples with newer or more course-relevant examples, or even integrate their own research into the readings. Open textbooks can save students hundreds of dollars, allowing professors to maximize their pedagogical tools rather than telling their students to purchase numerous textbooks for access to just one or two chapters.

Accountability

As publicly assisted institutions, universities have a variety of accountability mechanisms to ensure that they are adhering to public goals and priorities. Over the years, there has been no question as to whether or not institutions should be held accountable, due to their use of public dollars. Taxpayers and politicians alike still feel the need for universities to be accountable to government, despite the decline in government funding. In an effort to attempt to address this, the government developed Multi-Year Accountability Agreements with each institution. These agreements were designed with the intention of holding universities accountable to their own strategic initiatives, however, the framework failed to see much success. As a result, the government revised their accountability plan and created the Strategic Mandate Agreements, which are currently entering their second iteration. 

Indigenous Students

Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations is not easily achieved. Nevertheless, it is essential.Within the scope of Ontario’s university sector, this means ensuring that Indigenous peoples are encouraged and enabled to equitably access, engage, and succeed throughout their post-secondary careers and beyond. The best way to ensure that universities can provide engaging and meaningful experiences for Indigenous students is to pursue a path towards reconciliation via ‘decolonization’ and ‘Indigenization’. 

Housing, Transit, & Community Development

This policy paper aims to illustrate what students believe to be underappreciated issues and concerns in their municipalities. Though tensions tend to run high between temporary and permanent residents in cities with post-secondary institutions, universities contribute largely to the growth of local economies. Given the significant impact that universities have on their communities, attention should be paid to maintaining and strengthening relationships between university students and their municipalities.

International Students and Education

International education comprises several elements: increased international student access and retention within domestic institutions, growth in numbers of domestic students pursuing opportunities to study abroad, and diversifying institutional administration, staff, faculty, and services to promote internationalization. It is imperative that the Government of Ontario takes steps to enhance each of these areas in order to internationalize its university sector and remain competitive with other jurisdictions around the world.

A Comprehensive Access Strategy

All willing and qualified students in Ontario should be able to access and excel within Ontario’s post-secondary education system. Access, as a policy term, should have a singular meaning across Ontario that is separate from retention and persistence. The provincial government should reduce barriers to university access by developing and implementing a comprehensive access strategy. This strategy should holistically address all barriers to post-secondary education, ensuring equitable access to university for all Ontarians. 

Ancillary Fees

Ontario’s undergraduate students have been asked to shoulder the burden of rapidly rising tuition and associated costs of attending university. One of the most common means of providing new funds for building maintenance, capital projects, and student services has been through ancillary fees. Ancillary fees in Ontario have been rapidly increasing–by over 20% since 2010–and they comprise, on average, about 16% of the total fees paid by students in all university Arts and Science programs. As universities scramble to subsidize their operations, students are unfairly being tasked with paying ever increasing ancillary fees. This places increased financial burdens on Ontario’s students, and raising serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and fair cost sharing principles that students feel should permeate throughout the sector. 

Sexual Violence Prevention & Response

Everyone must play a role in creating a world free of sexual violence. If we do not, we are accepting its existence as an inevitable part of our society. All survivors—regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ability, or heritage—should be supported in ways that allow them to seek justice in meaningful ways and safely pursue their education. Student unions have played a critical role on campus, providing programming, training, and support and offer these recommendations as a blueprint for success.

Rural & Northern Students

All willing and qualified students from rural and northern communities should be able to access and excel within Ontario’s post-secondary education system. Ontario’s universities are in highly urbanized centers predominantly located in the south of the province. The remoteness of rural and northern students from these universities, combined with the diversity of their populations, means that barriers to university participation for youth in these areas have to be understood as complex, multifaceted, and interrelated. These factors are also compounded by the fact that post-secondary dropout rates are much higher in rural communities (14.8%) compared to the rest of Ontario (8.6%), which means these communities have lower proportions of university graduates, as well as fewer employment opportunities for degree holders.

Student Employment

Students’ understanding and participation in “work” affects their university experience in many ways. Employment can serve as both a motivator and hindrance to academic success. It can teach valuable lessons while also detracting from academic work. It is the number one reason why students attend post-secondary school. Unfortunately, numerous barriers stand in the way of increasing the employment rates of highly educated youth. These barriers must be treated as distinct yet interconnected, and necessitate multifaceted approaches. This OUSA policy paper outlines how government, employers, educators, and students can work together to overcome barriers and move towards a more prosperous, productive future.

Students with Disabilities

The concept of “disability” should be interpreted in broad terms including both present and past conditions as well as subjective components based on perceptions of disability. These subjective components determine disability in relation to individuals’ interactions with their environment: in the ways buildings are constructed, in the performance standards used to assess individuals, and in the ways individuals are expected to engage in daily activities. This interpretation of disability is referred to as a “social model” and places responsibility for overcoming accessibility barriers onto entire communities. This OUSA policy uses a social model of disability to offer recommendations that ensure all willing and qualified students in Ontario are able to access and excel within the post-secondary education system.

Online Learning

Online learning can be a useful option for students seeking more flexibility in completing their degree. Fully-online courses in particular are becoming more popular and provide an excellent alternative means of education to the traditional classroom environment. Having said that, students believe that online learning should not altogether replace traditional classroom learning and the benefits of an on-campus student experience. For this reason, this policy emphasizes online courses, not online degree programs. To all forms of online learning however, the same standards of quality found in traditional classroom environments should apply as well—a key tenant of this policy.

Teaching & Assessment

At the heart of the university experience is the profound learning that takes place in the classroom. This learning occurs through the acquisition and demonstration of discipline specific knowledge. As such, the undergraduate learning experience is heavily influenced by the quality and variety of teaching and assessment styles. This policy outlines students’ vision for the university sector and cultures of scholarship that strive to achieve excellence in undergraduate teaching and assessment.

Reforming Ontario’s Financial Assistance System

All willing and qualified students in Ontario should be able to access and excel within Ontario’s post-secondary education system. This often means that students must seek help to pay the high prices of a university education. The financial assistance system must provide sufficient funding for qualified individuals to attend post-secondary education. What’s more, any financial assistance students receive should enable them to devote their attention to their studies.

Tuition

Within the span of 20 years, tuition as a source of operating revenue grew from 18 percent in 1988 to 37 percent in 2008. The most recent financial reports show tuition alone made up 45 percent of universities’ operating budgets in 2014—51 percent when fees are included— compared to the provincial government’s 43 percent contribution. As tuition continues to increase the affordability, accessibility, and accountability of a university education is put at risk. Our Tuition policy sets out students’ priorities for addressing their short and long term concerns with regards to the tuition framework and tuition payment processes.

Mature Students

As a minority group on university campuses, the unique needs of mature students can be easily overlooked. It is important that the term “mature students” does not disguise the heterogeneity of this group: “…it is erroneous to speak of ‘the adult learner’ as if there is a generic adult that can represent all adults.” However, amongst this varied group of students, there are common concerns that they share. 

LGBTQ+ Students

On university campuses across Ontario, students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, trans, two-spirit, non-binary, questioning, or who otherwise identify as Queer (LGBTQ+) face varying levels of discrimination, harassment, and exclusion. Without pathologizing being LGBTQ+, it is important to recognize the increased mental and physical health concerns associated with the marginalization these students routinely face.

Student Health and Wellness

Based on principles that look to improve overall wellbeing amongst student populations, this policy on student health and wellness takes a broad look at a range of health concerns felt by Ontario’s post-secondary students, as identified by the student membership of OUSA.