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Trent divvies up the Trent Work Study Program Pie. Illustration by Brazil Gaffney-Knox.

Levy Groups Face Cuts to Funding for Student Jobs

Written by
Nick Taylor
and
and
October 18, 2021

Editor’s Note: It is important to disclose that Arthur is one of several levy groups affected by these changes. We are not approaching this story as impartial observers. 


Levy Groups Face Cuts to Funding for Student Jobs
Trent divvies up the Trent Work Study Program Pie. Illustration by Brazil Gaffney-Knox.

This year, in late summer, many levy groups did something they do every year, and applied for funding through the Trent Work Study Program. This funding is relied on annually to subsidize student wages, but this year some levy groups found that their funding had drastically decreased without warning. 

The Trent Work Study Program (TWSP) subsidizes student jobs by 75%, up to $2 000 per student. Students are only eligible if they receive OSAP, or some out-of-province equivalent. This funding is made available by the government, but allocated by the University. Levy groups rely on this funding to provide students with meaningful work opportunities -- the kind of education that you can’t receive in a classroom. 

One such levy group is Trent Radio. Jill Staveley, the organization’s Director of Programming, explained to Arthur why applying to TWSP was different this year. 

“In the 12 years that I have been responsible for applying for our TWSP funding for Trent Radio, this is the first time that we did not receive the full amount of our request. So, this result was unexpected to say the least,” said Staveley. 

She also noticed a shift in how the University engages and communicates with levy groups. “In the past, we would get regular emails and notices from TWSP staff keeping us informed of dates and information. This year we didn't always know who to contact, and when we did finally get in touch with the right person, the institutional memory related to navigating the TrentU/Levy Group relationship seemed to be missing,” Staveley explained.  

Staveley went on to explain that Trent Radio was able to navigate these changes without detriment to their organization. They’re a well-established levy group with full-time management staff, and a positive relationship with Trent staff and administrators. But she explained that for smaller levy groups, that’s not always the case: “TWSP and admin support from Trent University is something that smaller Levy Groups have come to rely on. With only one month notice before the school year - I can only imagine the negative impact a reduction in this funding stream will have on the capacity of levy groups to meet their annual goals and organisational aims & objects - let alone provide opportunities for meaningful engaged work experience for current Trent U students.” 

Another levy group I spoke to explained that they had initially not received any of the four positions they applied for, but after some back and forth with a staff member in the Careerspace office, the University apologized and approved three positions. 

I also caught up with Matt Jarvis, the Facility Manager at Sadleir House, who spoke about what this means for the relationship between the University and the levy groups that have sprung up around, but independently of it. 

“The University removing this is disappointing because I know that levy groups are very used to the University singing the praises of this system, like really marketing off of the benefits of our community... This is one of the only ways we see concrete support [from the University].”

“I think that the point that I’m trying to make is that we don’t need to work with the university. It’s not essential. We’re a long-standing, responsible organization. But we want to work with the university, and it’s difficult to work with someone that you’re not communicating with, and I don’t think the University is considering our relationship in that way.”

Jarvis reminded me that we’re not talking about large sums of money (up to $2 000/student position), but that the TWSP program is symbolic of a commitment to supporting what the levy groups offer. Sadleir House received just one third of the 12 positions they had applied for, but they also fall into the category of long-established levy groups that can afford to continue to employ students. Ultimately, this won’t pose a huge detriment to the organization, but Jarvis does have concerns about what this means for students. 

“Levy groups that have been around for decades have developed themselves into real workplaces where real things happen. But we have a mandate to support students, support student jobs, so students get to come into these spaces, and get taken seriously. They can have ideas and be taken seriously, and there can be money set aside for that.”

“The levy groups at Trent are a physical manifestation of that power of youth. All of these groups were started, and are currently being run, by young people. The exciting stuff about Sadleir house isn’t me mopping the floors -- the exciting stuff is the young people coming in and doing things. Our staff are a huge part of that every single year because we get to involve them in the operations of a radical community centre.”

The more I asked around, the more I realized how pervasive these changes had been. Over two thirds of the levy groups we surveyed had experienced cuts to their TWSP funding, with several groups also citing similar cuts to the positions they’d applied for through the Trent International Job Subsidy Program -- a near-identical program that subsidizes 50% of wages for international student positions. Both of these job subsidy programs now fall under the portfolio of Glennice Burns, the Associate Vice-President of Trent International who has added another portfolio to her plate this year -- that of AVP Careers & Experiential Learning. 

We reached out to Glennice Burns for comment, and she explained to Arthur that “This has been a challenging year for students looking for employment. Many departments have been looking for additional funding opportunities.” 

 She went on to say that while levy groups received some funding, “On-campus departments have been the priority since the funding is supported through the government TSA program (Tuition Set Aside).” 

But let’s break this statement down further. It makes sense that funding is in high demand, especially amongst ‘on-campus departments,’ as the University has, in recent years, allocated an increasing amount of labour to student employees, often working part-time, and almost always earning minimum wage. If it is actual academic departments looking for funding for student graders or administrative assistants, that would also be consistent with cuts made to departments in the wake of the Ford government’s unsubsidized tuition cut back in 2019. 

When it comes to the rationale provided for prioritizing on-campus departments -- that the funding comes from the government’s Tuition Set-Aside program, it didn’t seem clear to me how this detail was relevant, or justificatory. Tuition Set-Aside is money that the government requires universities to set aside for students in financial need -- whether that’s bursaries, awards, or work/study opportunities. I haven’t found any policy documents from the Ministry that stipulate that this money should stay on campus, or that it ought to be spent in ways that also benefit the institution. The money is for students. That is all the mandate really entails: the money has to end up in students’ pockets. 

From the University’s perspective, if the money can end up in students’ pockets and benefit the University at the same time -- well, that’s a win-win. However, something is missing from this equation, and it’s levy groups and the students who are employed by them. Matt Jarvis reminded me that one of the most important things levy groups do is create space for students to have their ideas taken seriously and access the support they need to see those ideas through. The concern then lies in the support required to ensure these spaces continue to flourish. And while it seems like most levy groups are in a position to weather this shortfall right now, the future of the Trent Work Study program, and whether levy groups will be able to continue to benefit from it, remains in question. 

 


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