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.

Student Financial Aid

Affordability of post-secondary continues to be a key concern for students in Ontario, and student financial aid programs should minimize the severity of this concern. However, consecutive years of changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) has made post-secondary education more unaffordable, and coupled with rising tuition rates and cost of living, students are struggling to pay for their education. Students require a reliable, comprehensive, needs-based financial aid system that actively and equitably supports their financial needs. Student financial aid should encourage participation and retention within post-secondary rather than act as a barrier to access, and it is imperative that more measures be implemented to facilitate this access without financial burden. 

Technology Enabled Learning

Tech-Enabled Learning usage has increased significantly over the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions are relying on technology more than ever to teach students. However, both staff and students struggle with the cost associated with using these platforms, as well as knowing how to use such technology. As we continue to adopt technology within post-secondary, the unique concerns of students need to be addressed so as not to compromise the quality of education.h technological change and innovation. From online learning and classroom technology, to open educational resources and badging, the post-secondary experience continues to evolve. Despite this, students worry about the lack of consistent provincial support and strategy for technology in post-secondary education and hope that the provincial government acts to develop a system wide approach for post-secondary education. 

Mature Students

Mature students are eager to enroll and participate in Ontario post-secondary education, but often have inequitable access to appropriate support. The needs and characteristics of mature students are unique due to the additional responsibilities and various circumstances they face. In the pursuit to make education accessible for all students, it is critical that social, financial, academic, and employment supports are tailored to address mature students’ needs and facilitate their ability to experience an enjoyable and rewarding post-secondary education.

 

Indigenous Students

The provincial government has yet to make an open commitment to decolonization efforts and supporting Indigenous self-determination. In order to truly commit to truth, reconciliation, and the advancement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous allyship, the provincial government has a duty to openly express support for decolonization efforts and Indigenous self-determination. Each author, contributor, and supporter of this paper has come forward to build the following recommendations to reflect the principles and concerns we believe must be represented, respected, and acted upon by our government in order to ensure that there is not only harm reduction for those in our academic space, but inclusivity and equity. We are thankful and honoured for the support we have seen through the creation of this paper, and we are eagerly expecting the government’s unwavering and deserved support.

Accountability and System Vision

Accountability mechanisms and systemic vision drivers, while a seemingly distant issue from students, pose significant implications to their post-secondary access and outcomes. The various processes, frameworks, and models used to practice accountability and achieve system goals are well-intentioned, but students have identified gaps and areas for improvement to more equitably serve the needs of not only themselves, but of faculty, administrators, and sector stakeholders. Students have come together to offer recommendations that address their concerns on a number of issues ranging from university governance to capacity expansion to Strategic Mandate Agreements, and hope they are seriously considered to actualize the accountability and system vision objectives for an enhanced post-secondary sector.

Responding to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge the post-secondary sector in numerous ways, however, an uptake in vaccination rates has led to cautious optimism for a pandemic recovery. Being mindful of the lessons learned from the first 20 months of the pandemic, students have collaborated on this policy paper to highlight concerns about their quality of education, health and safety, financial security, caregiving responsibilities, and employment prospects. They provide short- and long-term recommendations that will best support students as they remain careful, yet hopeful, about a post-secondary experience beyond the pandemic.

Student Mobility and Credit Transfer

Post-secondary credentials support social mobility and equity by preparing students for the labour market or further studies; and a strong credit transfer system is an important element of an equitable, accessible, and diverse post-secondary sector. With the quickly evolving post-secondary landscape and growing transfer needs that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a perfect opportunity to revisit student mobility and credit transfer through investments in supports, growing and strengthening transfer pathways, and better understanding the needs of transfer students in the province.

Addressing Racism and Religious Discrimination

The pervasiveness, severity, and systemic nature of racism and religious discrimination at post-secondary institutions necessitates a comprehensive, province-wide framework that not only seeks to prevent and respond to instances of racism and religious discrimination but that also targets the racial and religious inequities embedded in post-secondary structures. Everyone deserves to be able to safely pursue their education, yet racialized and religious students have consistently shared experiences and concerns about the ways in which institutional and provincial policies and practices infringe on their ability to do so. This policy paper offers a foundation for a comprehensive, province-wide framework that is student-driven and reflective of the persistent and ongoing advocacy of students across the province who have been calling for racial and religious equity at their institutions so that they can be safe and thrive.

Student Health and Wellness

Health is a fundamental human right that, for post-secondary students, is often at-risk due to demanding academic, employment and extracurricular commitments, insufficient financial resources and support, and gaps in accommodations and access to care. Existing mental health and addictions crises, barriers to physical and sexual wellness, along with food insecurity and insufficient health care coverage and accommodations, have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving post-secondary students in an increasingly precarious position as they struggle to maintain their wellbeing. Without adequate support, students will continue to face mental, physical, and sexual health challenges that will impact their ability to succeed in post-secondary education and beyond. This policy paper offers a number of recommendations that illustrate the importance of support from the provincial government to ensure students are able to live full and healthy lives, and provides the basis for a comprehensive, student-driven response to the mental health and addictions crisis, gaps in accommodations and support, and barriers to physical and sexual wellness that impact the overall wellbeing of students in Ontario.

Environmental Sustainability

Students in Ontario are committed to promoting environmental sustainability on their campuses and in their daily lives. Unfortunately, post-secondary institutions often lack the incentives required to divest from fossil fuels and operate using sustainable energy sources. There is also a lack of biodiversity, organic food products, and effective waste management on campuses, as well as a growing need for eco-friendly transportation methods, sustainable learning materials, collaborative sustainability research, and climate change awareness campaigns.

Housing, Transit, and Community Development

Students are important members of their municipalities, facing many of the same concerns that their neighbours face in terms of housing, transit, and community development. However, students also face unique challenges and barriers to living safely and comfortably in their communities. Access to quality and affordable housing, a lack of education and information about rental housing and tenant rights, and gaps in provincial legislation and dispute resolution pathways raise concerns for students about rental housing. These issues are compounded by barriers to accessible transit and discriminatory by-law enforcement that leaves students unfairly targeted and hinders their ability to feel a sense of belonging and build positive relationships with their communities. Provincial support is needed to ensure municipalities are able to meet the needs of all residents, including students, and to foster strong, positive relationships between universities and their municipalities. 

A Comprehensive Access Strategy

All willing and qualified students should be able to pursue higher education in Ontario, yet some groups remain significantly underrepresented within the province’s post-secondary institutions. To address this issue, the provincial government should create a comprehensive access strategy aimed at ensuring equitable access to post-secondary, flexible pathways to university, improved outreach programs, increased guidance in secondary schools, and more comprehensive data regarding access initiatives and post-secondary attainment.

Gender-Based & Sexual Violence Prevention & Response

The need for a comprehensive framework to prevent and respond to gender-based violence on post-secondary campuses is long overdue. Everyone deserves to be able to safely pursue their education. All survivors—regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, income, or heritage—should be supported in ways that allow them to seek justice and heal in meaningful ways. Students and student associations have played a critical role in prevention and response work, providing programming, training, and support in response to the persistence of gender-based violence in the post-secondary context and have come together to propose the following recommendations to guide a provincial framework that addresses student concerns.

International Students and International Education

International students provide unique perspectives that enrich higher education across the province. It is imperative that we give these students the support they need so that they can maintain their mental and physical health, sustain themselves financially, excel academically, and pursue their career goals. Unfortunately, international students continue to face several issues, including unregulated tuition, minimal financial assistance, expensive healthcare costs, unregulated recruitment practices, and a lack of work-integrated learning opportunities. There are also several aspects of exchange programs that need improvement, including financial aid, quality assurance, and student support services.

Rural & Northern Students

Rural and northern students face many of the same barriers to access and persistence in post-secondary education as students from southern or urban centres. However, they also face many challenges that are specific to their geographic regions, and many of the solutions that are proposed for southern and urban students will not be effective for those students living in or coming from a rural and/or northern setting. Recognizing the unique experiences of rural and northern students is an important step in improving the affordability, accessibility, accountability, and quality of post-secondary education in our province. The recommendations made by students in this policy paper are intended to ensure that rural and northern students are not disadvantaged because of their geographic region.

Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ Students

Students pursuing post-secondary education should never face discrimination, harassment, or exclusion on their campuses. Yet on many Ontario university campuses, Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ students face such realities and are marginalized because of who they are. In some cases, these students become the targets of deliberate, hate-motivated actions, and in other instances, the blame lies in ignorance or apathy. It is OUSA’s hope that the recommendations provided in this paper will contribute to improving access to and safety in postsecondary education for Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ students.

Student Association Autonomy

Student associations require autonomy over their operations in order to remain accountable to their members. This policy expresses student concerns over government intrusion onto the autonomy of student associations, most notably through the implementation of the Student Choice Initiative. It recommends that the provincial government recognize this autonomy and respect the right of universities and student associations to determine whether ancillary fees are set as mandatory or non-mandatory.

Ancillary & Incidental Fees

Ancillary fees fund services and supports that promote a safe, fulfilling, well-rounded post-secondary experience. The Student Choice Initiative, introduced in January 2019, gave students the ability to opt out of services that the provincial government deemed “non-essential.” The resulting funding cuts have reduced the effectiveness and threatened the existence of services that students depend on, including student associations, sexual health centres, peer support, food banks, and campus media. Other issues include unregulated housing and administrative fees, high textbook costs, and a general lack of transparency and accountability in the collection of ancillary fees.

Student Accessibility and Disability Inclusion

OUSA believes that all willing and qualified students should have access to affordable, accountable, and high quality education in Ontario. This extends to all students, including those with disabilities or perceived disabilities. However, students with disabilities continue to face barriers to accessing and persisting in post-secondary education across the province, and many of the barriers these students face are not new. This policy paper identifies these barriers and offers recommendations to the provincial government to support a post-secondary landscape that is accessible for all students. The recommendations are intended to address the systemic, structural, social, physical, financial, and legislative barriers that students with disabilities are forced to navigate in their pursuit of post-secondary education. Each section speaks to an area of concern identified by disability scholars, organizers, support providers, and, most importantly, students themselves.

Student Entrepreneurship, Employment, & Employability

The conversation on preparing students for the workforce continues to evolve and ensuring that students have the proper skills to succeed after graduation is a growing priority. Students are interested in taking a broader approach to preparation for the workforce, focusing not only on discipline-specific knowledge, but also providing opportunities for students to develop skills inside and outside the classroom. It is OUSA’s hope that these recommendations will support students as they transition into the workforce.

Teaching & Assessment

As technology advances and as the skills graduates needs to succeed in the workplace changes, post-secondary education needs to continue adapt. Students are interested in addressing the gaps in university teaching and learning, exploring more high impact learning opportunities, and highlighting the need for better inclusive learning experiences on campus. OUSA’s hope is that students, staff, and faculty-alike will benefit from these recommendations to improve teaching and assessment in Ontario’s universities.

Tuition

Since the 1970s, Ontario’s tuition framework has fluctuated significantly. Within a span of almost 40 years, government contributions to university operating budgets have declined, while student tuition and fees now make up over 50 percent of operating budget contributions. Without sustainable government funding, and as tuition continues to increase for all students, the affordability, accessibility, quality, and accountability of a university education is put at risk. As the tuition framework is set for renewal in 2019, students hope that the provincial government can address their concerns and take actions to restore Ontario’s publicly funded post-secondary system.