Student leaders, representing over 140,000 undergraduate and professional students, are traveling to Queen’s Park for “LobbyCon” to meet with MPPs and key decision makers to ask for improvements in Ontario’s universities. Representatives from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) will sit in over fifty meetings and lobby for key changes and updates to the university funding formula, targeted investments in work-integrated learning opportunities, and an overhaul of educational tax credits.
“In many ways, core mechanisms in our universities are still built for the world of a half-century ago,” says Spencer Nestico-Semianiw, OUSA President and Vice-President Education for the McMaster Students Union. “In the 1960s, the resources allocated by the university funding formula were reflective of the real costs per student; that’s no longer the case. In the 1960s, the act of earning a degree was enough to persuade employers that you could contribute meaningfully to the workplace; too often, this is no longer a fair assumption.”
With this in mind, students are asking the provincial government for increased and targeted investment in work-integrated learning or experiential learning opportunities, especially for underrepresented groups.
“Students who are able to get relevant work experience in-study are more likely to be confident when looking for a job, and earn $2 to $3 dollars more per hour than their peers after graduating,” says Lindsee Perkins, Vice-President Administration & Human Resources for OUSA. “Experiential learning isn’t meant to replace classroom education, it’s meant to enhance it.”
When it comes to improving the university system, students argue that it is not necessarily a matter of spending more public money, but spending public money differently. Students are asking that funds currently dedicated to educational tax credits are re-allocated to different, more effective forms of financial aid; these could include grants for low-income students or increasing the OSAP maximum loan allowance.
From now until Wednesday, students will be presenting specific recommendations to MPPs on what changes they would like to see from Queen’s Park.
“We need to have a university system better adapted to the present if we want students to be ready for their futures,” says Nestico-Semianiw. “Luckily, we have some good ideas on how to make that happen.”