Policy, Panel, Perogies, and Postcards

Hey all! Zoë here bringing you another special edition live blog, this time from our Day of Action follow up/perogie eating party.

4:08 As I sit in the corner of the red room, a tray of perogies is before me. It beckons me. It calls to me. Shall I answer?

Stay tuned.

4:10 I have succumbed to the lure. Typing with one hand.

Hannah Kaya, our (so fresh and so clean clean) External VP, is starting off by welcoming us and summarizing the Day of Action and what it stood for. The systems in place at the government level do not reflect the needs of students, particularly racialized and marginalized students.

We at King’s are also struggling for open board meetings. We do not stand alone, though. We are standing with the Canadian Federation of Students, students int Quebec, David Wheler, and many more.

The CFS is made up of exec from across the country. Our chapter in Nova Scotia represents many post secondary institutions in the province. They work to make change wherever decision making affects students.

We have some amazing guests! Michaela Sam and David Etherington.

David is up first! He works for the CFS-NS. He clarifies that the CFS is just where we all come together and lobby for things together. There are provincial and national offices.

The CFS has three prongs: we build and research, we meet with the government, and we do direct action, such as the Day of Action. The only way to make change, sometimes, is by getting out on the street or signing petitions.

He is now going through the CFS-NS’s policy Face The Future. One of the taglines of the CFS “Education is a Right.” That is because education is LEGALLY a right! In 1976 Canada signed a document that said they would make education free and accessible. Canada both signed and ratified this. This has the same power as the laws that prevent us from using cluster bombs. However, we have not seen this. Some students in other countries have tried to take their governments to court, but that hasn’t worked out, so we work with research, advocacy, and action.

The CFS polled Nova Scotians and found that 85% think that tuition fees should be reduced. 1 in 3 said that someone in their family had not pursued post-secondary because it was too expensive. 60% supported increased government funding to universities. the same amount said they were willing to pay higher taxes.

We lose about 1200 young people each year to other provinces. The vast majority were concerned about this and felt it was related to post-secondary.

The CFS-NS has made 6 recommendations to the NS government:

  1. Hold open public consultation as part of the MOU negotiations. MOU is the Memorandum of Understanding, which determines the future of post-secondary.
  2. Convert all student loans to grants. In Nova Scotia we have a student assistance model based on loans and grants, which are only available to students from Nova Scotia. We have also found that the debt cap does not help marginalized students. The more student assistance programs you have, the harder it is to use. The CFS-NS recommends moving to a grants-only program. Newfoundland does this already! This may sound very expensive, but it’s actually okay. If we merge all student assistance programs and use only slightly more, this plan is possible.
  3. Reduce tuition fees to 2011 levels. Nova Scotia is 3rd highest and has found to be one of the most inaccessible and least diverse. Since 2001 there has been over a 1000% increase in the amount of students that go to Newfoundland and Labrador for post-secondary. Also, fees keep increasing! And that increase is not proportional to inflation. Many universities use ancillary and auxiliary fees to get around tuition caps. Fees for dentistry, medicine, and law have especially increased. 790% since 1990, compared to the average increase of 230% in other programs. This can also be looked at through the amount of hours you have to work- in 1975 you had to work 300 hours to pay tuition. Now you must work 600. The CFS recommends making a plan to eliminate tuition fees by 2026, regulated fees for all programs but particularly international students and medicine, dentistry, and law programs, and the reduction of tuition fees to 2011 levels. The higher international fees are, the more we rely on international students who will eventually stop coming.
  4. Increase university funding. We always hear the pushback from the government saying that there simply isn’t enough money. However, it would in fact be better for the economy to invest in growth. When you finish your education, you will be more efficient at finding jobs, be more environmentally friendly, and more. Nova Scotia’s debt, in terms of debt to GDP ratio, we are actually not ridiculous. It’s good for provinces to go into debt to fund programs. We are in fact making huge progress on our debt. It is well-managed and we can more than afford to borrow money to fund social programs. Now more than ever, universities are funded by tuition fees not by the government. The CFS-NS recommends restoring and increasing funding.
  5. Provide medical coverage to international students. International students must live in NS for 13 consecutive months to get medical coverage. This would only cost $50 000. Seriously. That’s not much.
  6. Lobby the federal government regarding fairness for aboriginal students in Canada. Funding increase on the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Support System was capped at 2%. AND YET, the aboriginal youth population is growing the fastest in the country. Also, tuition fees increase more than 2% a year.

We can shrink our debt even if we spend all this new money (there’s a really soothing line graph here.)

The CFS-NS is also starting to lobby for rights for student workers. Things like unpaid internships and differential pay are affecting our experiences as students.

YAY DAVID.

Next up, Michaela Sam, who is the chairperson of the CFS-NS, or past president of the KSU, and generally awesome.

She says that tuition fees have increased by 3% pretty much every year, and that she has had to work 3 jobs to stay in school here. Since 1990, tuition fees have increased by over 230% in this province. She spent her last few weeks as president of the KSU meeting with decision-makers. George Cooper, our president, told her that students were not experts on tuition fees. That is ridiculous. Michaela has both paid her fees and actively done union work for the past 4 years. She has attended board meetings, meetings with the government, and more.

We’re at an interesting spot right now because the King’s budget, provincial budget and more are about to come out. In times of decline, financial mismanagement, deficit, etc. our school will try to increase our fees. You would think that our university would call for the government to increase funding, but instead they continue to increase fees. King’s specifically is ludicrously inaccessible financially. High fees disproportionately affect racialized students, students with disabilities, aboriginal students, and other minoritized students.

Ultimately, our university has chosen to say that it is the students’ job to do this work. It is our admin that says we have to advocate for increased public funding, even though we are the ones that have to pay these fees. It falls to students to bear the brunt and to admin to maintain the status quo. George Cooper’s vision of accessibility looks like using other programs, not the ones we already have. Our liberal arts degrees here are valuable, despite stereotypes to the contrary. To George Cooper, small proposals are enough. But that is not right. We need to address the huge broken system. These small one-offs are not the way to fix this. We are advocating alongside small changes.

It makes sense to invest in post-secondary and in students who will be able to settle down and build the economy here. It would be amazing if the presidents of Nova Scotia universities stood with David Wheler. Newfoundland students had to work hard to get the position they are in.

Our students’ union is advocating for open board meetings, which is extremely important. Having open meetings allows us to engage in a conversation. When the KSU approves the budget, we do so with everyone in the union and all have a vote. While we have measures of accountability, for some reason it is okay for the BoG to have closed meetings that we do not have access to and may not see the minutes of for months. Why are board meetings closed? Collegiality. The definition of this we hear is having closed door discussions not accountable to anyone. The real definition of this should be having a discussion that is open to all. In Michaela’s first year, students were kicked off the budget advisory committee because they didn’t have the “moral authority” to be there. Our BoG should be accountable when deciding whether YOU are able to attend this school. Many students should graduate and yet cannot because of fee increases.

So where do we need to be? What do we need to do? Hannah will hand out some postcards that we can fill out. This is the first step. We are currently seeing cuts all over the place, which means we need to work for the institution we need to go to and that it is not being supported at the moment. The decision making has been to increase fees. We see what happens when students rise up in events like when Janette Vusich, Sarah Clift, and Laura Penny were not going to have their contracts renewed. We realized that these are amazing professors we are not working to protect. We launched a letter-writing campaign, and now they will remain for at least one more year. Many people think it was ridiculous of us to do this campaign, and yet it is ridiculous that those three professors were going to be cut. We are the experts and although it is hard to see and make change, we are continuing to make it.

We have seen change in this province and elsewhere. That is what can happen when we are united as a union. We are going to work together to see it continue.

 

Hannah takes the stage again! She hands out some super cool post cards, which we will sign and give back. They will be delivered to the board of governors.

QUESTION TIME!

Curran asks about the increase of tuition. Is it about 3.5% each year? John Hutton from the DSU jumps in and says that it goes in spikes.

Gabriel asks what we know about the future of government spending on education. DO we know how much tuition will go up this year? Is the MOU finished? Michaela says that it looks like we will not see increases in public funding. The tuition will continue to rise unless we can change the government’s minds. We continue to have conversations in all kinds of places. Make ourselves as educated as possible. David says that it looks like there may be a 3% increase again, or maybe more. This is work we can win.

An student whose name I do now know asks if the return on the funding includes students who leave the province after completing their undergrad. David says no. Reducing debt loads has been shown to increase the likelihood of economic growth. The Liberals do not trust their young people. We must trust them because they will give results.

Curran asks what the impact has ben on Newfoundland. David says that their retention rate has increased and it looks like their economy is picking up. Michaela says that we get to meet with students across the countries and she’s heard from students at Memorial that they sell Alexander Keith’s at the bar now because there are so many NS students there now.

David says we are having a provincial general meeting. We are always looking for input.

John Hutton reminds us about Free Poutine Free Tuition happening tonight! There will be bands and free poutine at the Dal Sexton campus. GO!

 

This was an awesome meeting, shoutout to Hannah, David and Michaela, as well as all the students who showed up. You are all great.