Grants, dialogue must accompany fee hike

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Just last week the province announced its new plans for post-secondary tuition. Chris Bentley, the minister of training, colleges and universities, explained that the tuition increases will vary. For example, the increase for a first-year Arts and Science student will be capped at 4.5 per cent, while the increase for an upper-year student will be capped at four per cent. First-year students in professional programs, however, could see tuition increases of up to eight per cent.

Alarming to many is the fact that there was no assurance that OSAP assistance would increase in proportion to tuition increases. Although the government has already invested in other student financial assistance, we have yet to see how this assistance will be distributed.

Perhaps this is what concerns students the most: we have been left in the dark as to what the McGuinty government intends to do to address the inevitable need for assistance that will accompany the increase in tuition. Increasing funding to OSAP is one solution, but what might be more beneficial to students is the establishment of a more extensive grants system to avoid ratcheting up student debt levels. Many students and their families are able to cover the higher costs, but the province must provide real assistance to those who cannot.

While a tuition increase is unfortunate, it is in some ways necessary. If we look around campus at the state of many of our facilities and our student-professor ratios, we can immediately see areas that desperately need to be improved. If increasing tuition will quickly and measurably improve the quality of our education, it is a sacrifice we as students may need to make, even as we ask the province to reduce tuition fees over the long term. It is easy to complain about the decrepitude of buildings, but as adults, we are also capable of assuming some financial responsibility for our education. Both we and the province have a role to play.

That isn’t to say that we should allow tuition to increase without limits. The creation of the Higher Education Quality Council, for example, is a good step in ensuring that institutions are held accountable for actually using the extra funds to improve accessibility and the quality of education. Universities should set realistic goals and standards and charge only the tuition necessary to ensure they are met, rather than increasing tuition as high as the market will bear.

While the demonstration by Queen’s students on Monday showed the province and the administration that students are concerned about the changes to tuition regulation, demonstrators at Chris Bentley’s initial announcement, as well as some local protesters, were not opposing the framework in an effective manner. In order to garner the respect and attention of politicians and administrators alike, students must articulate their concerns clearly and in detail, without resorting to aggressive tactics and rhetoric. After all, student voices need to be heard, now more than ever.

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