Students in Ontario, Canada, hit the streets on January 25, protesting fund cuts in education announced by the provincial government led by Doug Ford on January 17. A USD 600 million cut in student grants and USD 440 million cut in funds provided to universities and colleges have been announced by the provincial government. These include a 10% tuition cut (which actually underfunds institutions), a 50% cut in the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) grants, elimination of complete coverage for low-income students, removal of the grace period for paying back student loans and eliminating mandatory due payments to student unions, among other anti-student measures.
In the wake of such protests against the fund cuts, Peoples Dispatch spoke to the Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) on the aims and processes of the struggle. RSM is a Canada-wide revolutionary, anti-capitalist student movement guided by communist principles.
Peoples Dispatch (PD): How vital has been Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to the students in the province and what is the motive behind Doug Ford’s move to restrict the program?
Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM): For a long time now, taking on a student loan was the only way for a majority of working class students to obtain any kind of post-secondary education. OSAP was providing grants to pay off substantial amounts of the loans to graduates, especially students from low-income families. It was not sufficient, but it was a big source of financial support to hundreds of thousands of students across Ontario. This is definitely a plan to bleed most students for money we don’t have through outrageous loan repayment rates.
PD: What will be the implications of the cuts in OSAP on the students of Ontario?
RSM: Fewer working class students will be able to take on any kind of post-secondary education, and those that do will be forced into a deeper debt hole in order to afford it. Education will become even more of a privilege, open only to those who come from well-off families. Working class students will be locked out of it.
PD: What has been the reaction among the students regarding this? What are your plans for agitations against these cuts?
RSM: Across the province, we are seeing spontaneous calls to protest these recent attacks on working class students. Established student advocacy groups like the Canadian Federation of Students and student unions seem to be lagging behind the demands of students who are growing more combative. We have launched a campaign called Red Spring and are organizing to hold one-day strikes on February 15 across Ontario and March 20 across the country to demand a better education system. We will keep organizing tirelessly to achieve this, and we are seeing many positive responses from students.
PD: What is your general understanding regarding the education policy in Canada? What are your major interventions and alternative proposals for the betterment of the education system in the country?
RSM: We do not see the current education system as one that serves the majority of the people, and therefore, we are organizing around the following 5 demands:
Education in the service of the people, not profit!
Education must serve the interests of the people, not corporations and profit. Everyone needs to have access to post-secondary education. Research has to be done for the benefit of all, not the benefit of capitalists and their wars. A democratic and scientific education must replace the imperialist, settler-colonial and patriarchal curriculum. Education needs to prepare us to struggle for justice and liberation, not simply prepare us to be exploited on the job.
Guaranteed paid internships for all students
Interns are workers and must be paid equally for the same work as other workers in their field. Over 300,000 interns across the country do not get proper pay. The times when employers could exploit intern workers without pay must end now!
Abolition of tuition fees at all levels of education! Cancellation of all outstanding student debt!
Banks and the government keep using students as cash cows while tuition fees and debt become unbearable for most of us. We will not be held hostage to the scam of having to give an arm and a leg for a basic necessity such as education!
Barrier-free access to post-secondary education for all Indigenous people and an anti-colonial aspect to all programs!
Canada, as a settler-colonial state, is built on stolen land and the genocide of Indigenous nations. All Indigenous people must have barrier-free access to post-secondary education. We support the creation of independent faculties, colleges and universities controlled by the Indigenous people. The education system needs to foster the cultures and languages of Indigenous people within it and include mandatory anti-colonial components in all programs.
Democratic control of post-secondary institutions!
Universities and colleges should be run by the people they serve, not by unelected boards of governors and administrators filled with representatives of the big banks and large corporations. We demand the abolition of boards of governors. Instead, schools must be run by committees elected at a general assembly composed of students, faculty, support staff, and members of the community.