Advocating for students, OUSA annual campus meeting goes online

Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance outlines pandemic­ priorities, meets with AMS executive and Queen’s leadership

The pandemic has allowed OUSA to meet with universities more regularly. 
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The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) has shifted its annual campus meeting to a virtual platform, prioritizing student financial aid, quality of education in the context of online learning, racial equity, and student mental health.

Founded in 1992, the OUSA functions with a collective of student leaders from McMaster, Brock, Laurier, Western, Trent-Durham, University of Waterloo, University of Ottawa, and Queen’s to lobby the provincial government for policy change and funding with a unified voice. The Alliance advocates on behalf of 150,000 undergraduate students.

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“Our mission is to improve the accessibility, affordability, accountability and quality of higher education in Ontario,” wrote Chisanga Mwamba, OUSA’s communications & operations coordinator, in a statement to The Journal.

Mwamba said the OUSA has dedicated the past year to improving professional government relations practices, holding meetings and consultations regarding COVID-19 with stakeholders in the Office of the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, The Higher Education Council of Ontario, and the Council of Ontario Universities to assess the broader economic and societal impacts of the pandemic.

In response to the pandemic, the OUSA has lobbied for an improvement to the financial support provided by OSAP, securing funding for students. According to Mwamba, the Alliance has demanded that the provincial government reimplement the moratorium for OSAP loan payments, provide a two-year interest-free grace period after graduation, and lower the interest rate on loans to the government’s borrowing rate or Canada’s prime rate.

A leading goal of the OUSA includes the provincial government reviewing financial programs and assessing any opportunities for temporary spending for students with greater financial need.

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“We look towards how the federal government was able to provide CESB funding for COVID-19, and hope that the provincial government will provide similar funding for students,” Mwamba said.

Regarding the virtual nature of these meetings, Mwamba noted that scheduling had become far more flexible. Travel once limited the number of meeting times and visits, Mwamba explained, but online visits have allowed for discussions held over multiple weeks with each contributing school. 

“Our president and executive director are meeting with the Provost, the Dean of Student Affairs, and the Principal of Queen’s, with more time afforded to these visits,” Mwamba said.

Aside from the ease of these online campus visits, Mwamba observed that the informal nature of past visits with the AMS have been a challenge to replicate virtually but noted that the OUSA is prioritizing a strong working relationship between the Alliance and the University.

Mwamba shared the preliminary talking points of these meetings, stating that the OUSA is interested in the overall well-being of Queen’s students, as well as the general response of the University to the pandemic.

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