Organized by Western’s Society of Graduate Students and held in conjunction with three other rallies in Ontario led by the CFS, the protesters included students, parents and faculty who voiced their frustration with Ontario’s expanding tuition rates and disappearing postsecondary funding.
Nicholas Cothros, VP-external of SOGS, drew attention to the situation with statistics about education support in the province.
“Tuition fees in Ontario have tripled within the last 15 years,” he said. “This makes them the second highest rates in Canada.”
Allan Gedalof, president of the UWO Faculty Association, was one of five speakers invited to the event, and he spoke about the “intolerable situation.
“We seem to have trouble getting the severity of this problem to the general population,” he said. “It is very short-sighted to believe that there are more important things on the political agenda when society is the greatest beneficiary [of] your education.”
Patti Dalton, second VP of the London and District Labor Council, described the growing corporate influence on education and public services in Ontario.
“It was alarming how many times the phrase ‘public-private partnership’ was used by Bob Rae and in the Rae commission forum,” she said.
Cothros criticized the government’s efforts in making the increasingly corporate-funded education available to students.
“The government believes that post-secondary education is fully available,” he remarked. “Anyone can go to school because anyone can borrow huge sums of money. Their belief is study now, pay later — pay a lot later.”
Cothros also accused the Ontario government of using the population to fund the education system and called income-contingent loan repayment schemes a way of “downloading expenses onto students and their families.
“This is not a form of student aid,” he said. “This is a way of funding university when support is cut.”
As a step of action against the issue, students were asked to sign a petition protesting rising tuition fees and were invited to march down to London North-Centre MPP Deb Matthews’s office.
The intent was to present her with the petition, which contained over 800 signatures, as a symbol of discontent among the student body, Cothros explained.
Before the rally confronted the MPP, Western professor of education Rebecca Coulter attempted to instill strength and passion into her audience.
“It is important to remember that each one of you are living the experience,” Coulter advised before the protesters left for Matthews’s office.
“Behind all these stats are real people. Students who are not eating well, students who cannot buy textbooks, students who are working two or more jobs while caring for an aging parent,” she stated.
“It’s time for students to speak out against the injustice they are facing. Remind the government and the MPPs that they made a commitment to post-secondary education. Go down there and tell them, ‘Damn it! Keep your promise!’”