Last year Trent Central Student Association president Braden Freer, who was at the time the vice president of campaigns and equity, approached the Trent University administration with a request to direct a co-written letter from the TCSA and the administration to the provincial government.
The letter, which was to request that the government cease lowering funding to post-secondary institutions and would initiate a tuition freeze, was not approved by the administration at that time.
However, Freer’s successor as vice president of campaigns and equity, Boykin Smith, is ready to continue the discussions and is looking forward to the next segment of The Hikes Stop Here campaign, an initiative by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Ontario to lobby for lower post-secondary education tuition costs.
“Last year when I was the vice president of campaigns and equity, I was also on the executive of the CFS Ontario,” said Freer. “That year, CFS decided that we would switch our tactics.”
The previous method for seeking tuition freezes had been to go after the university itself, asking the administration to freeze tuition costs.
The issue arises in that funding levels for post-secondary institutions are continuously going down, so if the administration froze tuition they would have a lower operating budget and would be forced to make some sacrifices in terms of university operations.
“There’s an efficiency cut in funding every year, so what that means is that the government assumes that universities are becoming more efficient each year, so funding goes down,” said Freer.
The new idea was to approach the university administration to request a joint letter to the provincial government explaining the necessity for increases in education funding alongside a request for a tuition freeze.
While the administration was unable to approve the suggestion due to the embedded tuition freeze request, Freer noted that there was positive discussion regarding the idea.
“The chair [of Trent University’s Board of Governors] at the time, Ann Wright, did send a letter to us that said they would consider partnering with us on it in the future, which is sort of where we’re at now,” he said.
Where we’re at now is with Smith, who is set to continue the discussions that Freer began last year.
“I’m hoping to do a similar letter as Braden did,” said Smith, adding that he plans to have the letter touch on three topics.
The first of the three is the request for a tuition freeze, which is the main objective for the CFS Ontario. The other two points are suggestions to the government for an improved funding system not tied to institution enrolment levels, and an alternative budget for the university.
“Our campaign is called The Hikes Stop Here, where we’re trying to freeze tuition fees and then ultimately reduce tuition fees,” said Smith, adding that hopefully one day in the future tuition fees in Ontario will be removed altogether, similar to the recent change in Germany.
In order for a tuition freeze to be a viable option for the university administration, Smith suggests that an alternate funding system will be necessary.
“Trent University isn’t interested in increasing its enrolment, although the ministry wants all universities to increase their enrolment,” he said.
“Student demand is that we want our classes to remain the sizes that they are, we want the student to professor ratio to remain as positive as it is today. So the fact that we are only funded based on our enrolment really hinders the development of our university.”
Smith said that due to the current enrolment-based funding system, tuition levels are at a point where many people may not be able to afford the costs. One idea that Smith expressed as a possible alternate was a geography-based funding method.
Smith feels that an opportunity for the student association to propose their own draft of the university’s budget is a valuable asset. “This is something I think is very important for any student’s union,” he said. “I think it shows that we are really interested in creating change, and the only way that we can create change is by addressing the issues and showing some sort of alternative solution.”
Though the premise is set, the content and wording of the letter has not yet been finalized. “I’m still in the process of consulting with the board,” said Smith. “I do want to have some draft of that letter before reading week.”
Once the draft is done, it will be presented to the president and vice-president of the Board of Governors to determine the viability, and then a presentation will be given at a meeting where the Board of Governors are discussing the budget for next year.
According to Smith, along with the letter, the next step for The Hikes Stop Here campaign is to “aggregate and mobilize our student movement, and trying to do creative action on campus,” in order to lead up to the winter term when budget conversations will begin on both a provincial and Trent administrative level.
Smith said he has high hopes that the educational work and initiatives will bring more student interest and voices to the topic.
“The only way we can actually accomplish what we hope to accomplish is if different organizations, different departments, are supporting this idea as well,” said Smith. “With bigger numbers we can pose a bigger stance to the provincial government.”
More information on the CFS The Hikes Stop Here Campaign can be found online at thehikesstophere.ca