Last week, OUSA hosted our first Policy Symposium: A gathering of stakeholders, our colleagues in government, and representatives from the 8 university campuses that OUSA represents. The aim of the symposium was to broaden the conversation surrounding OUSA policy and gain insight on what experts beyond the sector were saying about student issues. In doing so, we were able to bring the concerns and priorities of Ontario’s students, and learn what questions we will have to answer as we continue to develop policy on emerging topics. Traditionally, we pride ourself at always having a seat at the table in Ontario policy discussions, but for this event, we invited all of our partners to our table - to engage in our policy process, and give their perspective on the issues facing students in Ontario.
At OUSA, we focus our advocacy on four main values - an affordable, accessible, high quality, and accountable post-secondary education in this province. It is the foundation for the 21 papers in our policy library, and the campaigns we run on an annual basis to involve all students in our advocacy with government. This year, our Steering Committee has focused those values on outcomes that are important for the students studying on our campuses. Students want an affordable and high quality post-secondary education for all willing and qualified students in Ontario. Students also believe that in conjunction with experiencing safe and healthy campuses, they should be prepared graduates for the changing workforce. To facilitate conversations on these outcomes, the Policy Symposium included three panel discussions - Experiential Learning, Student Health and Wellness, and Technology-Enabled Learning.
Our first panel was moderated by Isabelle Duchaine, Director of the Business/Higher Education Roundtable. Isabelle facilitated a conversation with Jamie Cleary, Manager of Government Relations for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Sashya D’Souza, Senior Vice President of Talent Initiatives for the Toronto Financial Services Alliance, and David McMurray, Vice President Student Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University. Each of our panelists brought a unique perspective - from employer representatives, to thought leaders in the work-integrated learning space, and pioneers on campus that are working with students everyday to produce opportunities. Not only was the panel able to reflect on the importance of the integration of experiential learning into academia to prepare university graduates for the workforce, panelists also discussed the necessary steps towards more diverse opportunities for experiential learning to ensure all students can access a valuable experience and strategies for students to communicate the skills they acquire outside of the classroom.
The second panel of the day was a comprehensive overview of the primary student health concerns on our campuses. Karen Gold, Clinical Program Specialist at Women’s College Hospital brought an experienced and front-line perspective as moderator on the topics of mental health, sexual violence, and international student health care. Uppala Chandrasekera the Director of Public Policy at CMHA Ontario spoke about the post-secondary landscape on mental health in addition to common challenges amongst K-12 students and the youth population. Jade Cooligan Pang the Co-Chair of OurTurn, and Martyna Siekanowicz, one of OUSA’s Research and Policy Analysts spoke about sexual violence solutions from a policy lens, including recent Ontario legislation and the administration of a province-wide climate survey. Stephanie Bertolo a board member here at OUSA and Vice President Education at the McMaster Students’ Union spoke to the unique challenges international students face since they are not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). Bringing together students that are on the ground on campus seeing these challenges occur, and expertise from valuable partners gives our sector a more comprehensive understanding of how to promote student health across the province. Many of the questions posed to panelists were about the intersections of these different issues, understanding that they are interrelated and can leave a significant impact on the life of a student that needs service.
Our final panel explored a new policy area for OUSA: technology-enabled learning. An educational technology veteran, David Porter, CEO of eCampus Ontario moderated a compelling panel from both public and private representatives. John Kelleher, a Partner at McKinsey & Company’s Special Turnaround Unit and a Co-Chair of NEXT Canada, Jacob Korenblum, the Senior Manager of Policy at the Ontario Digital Service, and Danny Chang, the President of OUSA and Vice-President at the University Students’ Council at Western University held a lively discussion about the future of work with the advancements in machine learning, as well as how education will advance in the fields of online learning, open education, and student credentialing. Our panelists agreed that technology is changing the world we live in - perhaps more rapidly than ever before - but various solutions to harnessing that change to improve learning and the educational experience were discussed.
To culminate our day, Karim Bardeesy spoke about the intersections of the three policy topics and the critical juncture they illustrate what students need to succeed as education in Ontario continues to shift. . Karim boasts an impressive background having studied Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, enacted it while the Deputy Principal Secretary to Premier Kathleen Wynne, and now is changing the way young people engage with Public Policy as a Distinguished Visiting Professor, Special Advisor to the President, and Co-Founder of the Leadership Lab all at Ryerson University. He was able to bring the discussion of policy up to the broader outcome OUSA prioritizes - advocacy on behalf of students.
So where do we go from here? Students are excited to work with a new government in Ontario to start tackling these challenges and opportunities. Harnessing the potential of Ontario’s youth has never been more important. Students will be continuing the dialogue that was started at the Policy Symposium to reflect on perspectives given, find answers to the questions that stumped even the experts, and shape the policy goals of their peers into advocacy action with government. We ask for your continued support of student advocacy in this province, and are looking forward to inviting you back again to work with us as we continue to evolve our policy.