Post-secondary review compromised, student groups say

Panel member tells magazine tuition must rise

TORONTO (CUP) — Before releasing a single document, the panel set to review Ontario’s post-secondary education system is already coming under fire from student groups. That’s because one panel member has made comments to a popular news magazine that appear to presuppose the outcome of the review. An unnamed member of the Bob Rae panel is quoted in the Sept. 6 issue of Maclean’s as saying that “tuition is going to have to go up.”

The Canadian Federation of Students responded by saying the panel had been compromised and by questioning its members’ objectivity. “It’s just one more flag that’s going up around the Rae review,” said Jesse Greener, provincial chair of the CFS. The student leader said he’s concerned panel members have already decided tuition increases are the answer to Ontario’s university and college funding woes.

“If everyone agrees that there’s a funding problem, then that’s a first step. But where are we going to get the funding from?” Greener said. “That’s the kind of discussion we need to have, and I don’t think that’s the kind of discussion the Rae panel is interested in.”

Ruth MacKay, project manager for the post-secondary review, says the panel is still committed to consulting the public and stakeholders. “No conclusions have been reached,” she said. “Certainly, the panel is in the process of reviewing all options.”

The Rae review is now accepting submissions from stakeholders, including universities as well as student, parent and faculty groups, through its new web site. It plans to issue a discussion paper in late September, which will be followed by public consultations.

The consultations will include a series of town hall meetings on college and university campuses. Finally, the panel will make recommendations on the funding and structure of post-secondary education in January 2005.

The CFS and its member student unions are co-ordinating a postcard campaign asking the panel to reduce tuition. The cards are addressed to Rae, the former premier who is the panel’s chair, and the CFS hopes to have the bulk of them to Rae by the end of the month to coincide with the release of the discussion paper.

At Carleton University in Ottawa, the student union has included the postcards in their handbooks and will pay to send postcards dropped into mailboxes they’ve set up across campus to Rae. “I think it’s very important for students to have a fair understanding of what’s happening with the review,” said Lindsay Mossman, vice-president of Carleton’s student union. “We’re providing them for every single student, so they can take action.” Mossman says she hopes to see between 7,000 and 10,000 postcards go out from her school.

At Toronto’s George Brown College, the student union is planning to speak to classes and distribute the cards. They hope to mail about 5,000. “We’ve brought them out during orientation, and the students really took to them,” said Stephanie Pickett, a student union vice-president at the college. Both Pickett and Mossman were angered by the comments in Maclean’s.

“It’s infuriating because it’s saying you’ve already got this biased person on the panel saying the tuition increase is the only solution, but it’s not,” said Pickett, who wants the government to increase funding and grants.

Greener said he hopes the postcards, as well as an upcoming petition campaign aimed at members of the provincial parliament, will influence the review. “The perceived politically easy route is to get funding from students because people feel students will roll over and allow tuition fees to increase,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that university students are seen as a cash cow and a resource to be exploited,” he added.