Well. Here it is. My last blog as OUSA President.
May is a time of renewal and reflection. This past month, our Steering Committee and their fellow executives on their home campuses have packed up their belongings, reflected on the year, and embarked on the next chapter of their lives. At the same time, new student leaders across the province have transitioned into their new roles, excited for the year ahead and to advocate for students. It’s definitely bittersweet, and I’m sure many of my peers would agree that this year has had some of the most difficult challenges, as well as some of the most rewarding and exciting experiences.
This year, we’ve had to navigate the first change in government in the last 14 years, which meant there were new relationships to build in order to advocate for students, as well as new priorities set by decision-makers. It’s definitely been difficult and our Steering Committee oftentimes felt lost navigating uncertain waters, but I couldn’t have asked for a better team to take on this challenge.
We sat down with over 60 existing and new members at Queens Park, including Ministers, the Premier, and Leaders of opposition, to talk about student concerns: from creating safer and healthier campuses, to preparing graduates for the workforce. Members from every single party in the legislature all agreed that we had to do more to invest in the students who will soon enter the workforce and further contribute to society.
Through our General Assemblies with student delegates from across Ontario, we had to have difficult conversations about a changing post-secondary landscape, as well as how OUSA could be a leading voice for students in uncertain times. We passed our first stance on Freedom of Speech and Expression, outlining concerns with a number of elements found in the policy, and how we could continue fostering fruitful and respectful debate on university campuses. We also passed policies on Tuition, Technology-Enabled Learning, Teaching & Assessment, Student Financial Aid, Gender and Sexual Diversity: LGBTQ+ Students, and Student Entrepreneurship, Employment, & Employability; all critical policies when it comes to conversations and issues that students are having on our campuses. You can find all of our policies here.
After advocating for a number of months, we saw the results of the Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey and a corresponding policy directive come out from the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities. The results of this survey were quite saddening, yet not surprising for student advocates on university campuses -- places where we know women experience high rates of sexual violence. We voiced for this to be a reminder and a call to action for government and institutions across the province to address and end sexual violence on our campuses.
We also experienced the government’s announcement in January -- a rollback on the Ontario Student Assistance Program, a 10% reduction to domestic tuition, and the introduction of the Student Choice Initiative, which made a number of ancillary fees in university optional for students (find our reactions here and here). We swiftly met with stakeholders in government, expressing significant concerns and impacts with these changes. We had the opportunity to sit down with the Deputy Minister to raise a number of concerns and questions that had to be answered for students and their families (see our Open Letter to the Deputy Minister here). We also lobbied on excluding transit passes from the Student Choice Initiative and the Minister listened to our concerns, saving students across the province over $300 million a year. This announcement has led to a number of initiatives for our campuses: from supporting letter writing campaigns, to informing students, and even launching campaigns.
Now looking back on just this month, we’ve been busy with a few things. We recently hired two new Research & Policy Analysts, Britney and Ryan! They’re coming to OUSA with fresh perspectives and so much experience -- we are lucky to have them join our Home Office. We also welcomed Linda, our Summer Research Intern; we are very excited to have such a passionate and experienced student join our team for the summer months!
We hosted our annual Partners in Higher Education Dinner, bringing together sector stakeholders to discuss our accomplishments thus far, as well as the priorities for students moving forward. We hosted a number of guests, including David Piccini, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, as well as our keynote speaker, the incredible Farrah Khan, who addressed our audience on the importance of post-secondary education leadership regarding sexual violence prevention and education. Here we also awarded instructors across our member schools our annual Teaching Awards, recognizing outstanding and innovative teaching at our member schools.
We have also been busy transitioning our 2019-2020 Steering Committee. They are a bright group of individuals who are eager to represent the best interest of students; I’m excited for what’s in-store for them. After the provincial government’s first post-election budget, they now have the opportunity to set more priorities and initiatives that the government can act on in the best interest of students. I have the utmost faith that they will highlight student perspectives effectively and with the best interest of their peers in mind.
To the new team: it is a difficult path ahead with tough decisions to be made, but it will be up to all of you to continue fighting tirelessly in the interest of students. The students of today will always know what is best, and I have so much faith in all of you. Best of luck on your journey!
To everyone along the way: it has been an absolute honour to serve as OUSA President this year. To be able to lead an organization that works tirelessly and strategically to advocate for student needs in such an evidence-based and student-driven way has been an incredible experience, and I’m so grateful for everyone who has helped us on this journey. The work that we do is not possible without the incredible students, staff, and stakeholders who play such a vital part in bettering our vision for an accessible, affordable, accountable and high quality post-secondary education in Ontario.