Reflections from the #OUSAmazingRace

This past week we had the opportunity to meet with various stakeholders in the PSE sector, and to learn more about their role in improving post-secondary education in Ontario. Although the organizations these individuals represent vary from the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer (ONCAT) to the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health (CICMH) to the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD), it was evident that improving the post-secondary sector, and ultimately, improving access to and quality of post-secondary education for students, was a goal they all shared.

Throughout the week, we met with:

  • Sean Madden, Senior Policy Analyst at MAESD
  • Lisa Rae, Director of Operations at MAESD
  • Zachary Rose, Senior Policy Advisor at MAESD
  • Marc Gurrisi, Economic Specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Finance
  • Marija Padjen, Director for the CICMH
  • Yvette Munro, Executive Director at ONCAT
  • Olivia Dagbo, Research and Policy Analyst at the College Student Alliance (CSA)

We are so grateful to have been able to learn from these experts. As Lisa Rae noted during our meeting, post-secondary education is a microcosm of society. This means that working as student leaders or as professionals in post-secondary education is exciting because it has the potential to transform the the world we live in more broadly. From financial assistance programs, to mental health services, to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, we need expertise in various fields in order to have a thriving post-secondary sector. We were able to gain insights from some of these experts about best practices on campus mental health services, the details of the university funding formula, the evolution of transfer credits, and the continued disparities in accessing institutional transfers for students across the province. This equipped us with a greater understanding of certain facets of the post-secondary sector to ensure we are better prepared as interns, and student leaders, to make the most of our time here and do what we can to contribute to improving post-secondary education for students in Ontario.

Another takeaway from these meetings was the unique perspectives many of our partners had. Of the eight stakeholders we talked to, only one had been engaged with OUSA at their alma maters during their time as an undergraduate student (although many had previously been members of OUSA’s home office staff!) It was inspiring to see their continued commitment to improving the lives of students, through working at MAESD, or other PSE-focused organizations. Regardless of where they currently worked, these individuals demonstrated that working at OUSA offers you significant opportunities to be self-directed, and to develop skills related to advocacy, lobbying, and policy making that many students do not have the chance to learn during their undergraduate degrees. We will be sure to take advantage of these opportunities and ensure that we use these experiences the best we can when we return to school in the fall.

The stakeholders we met brought valuable insights and helped us  recognize the different social factors that influence post-secondary experiences. For instance, one stakeholder discussed how historically, in many cases students who were transferring institutions were also survivors of sexual violence moving back home to find the supports they needed. Hearing such experiences demonstrated the importance of utilizing an intersectional approach in developing all of our policies. Additionally, these stakeholders helped connect us with valuable resources to bring back to OUSA that others in PSE might not have traditionally been aware of. Many of our partners had overlapping goals, as illustrated by our success with In It Together: Taking Action on Student Mental Health. When we approach challenges students face through a systemic lens - the same way we approach many of the challenges facing us at large - we are able to work together and innovatively problem solve. Collaboration and a whole of community approach is central to ensuring that when we develop policy, we adequately account for all students’ unique experiences.

Prior to beginning the OUSAmazing Race, we had primarily engaged with politicians and university administrators on issues of PSE, but had not had significant one-on-one time with other stakeholders. Each person we met emphasized that in order to be successful, PSE has to be student-facing, and consequently, we’d argue that the experiences and ideas of students are some of the most valuable things we as student leaders can bring to the table. Students drive post-secondary education. So we encourage students to recognize the value of their ideas, thoughts and experiences when advocating for change. Good advocacy requires that, when we get a seat at the table, we are well-prepared to propose solutions that reflect the needs and lived experiences of students.  It is only through this process that we can successfully improve both the lives of students and society at large.

We wanted to thank the Home Office staff for organizing these meetings for us! This opportunity was a fantastic way to meet important stakeholders in the PSE sector, and provided a valuable opportunity to grow our knowledge of the sector’s decision-making process. We know that this is just a start, and we can’t wait to learn even more throughout the summer!

Until next time,
Cat and Mac