In March 2020, as COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, daily life was forced to change. For post-secondary institutions this meant shutting down campuses and moving in-person classes online.
Administrations pushed for the shift from in-person to online classes to happen immediately, with little support for instructors and no time dedicated to ensuring online education would be accessible and high quality for students – let alone how much students had already paid for their courses. Efforts to immediately continue education were not made in the interest of students. These decisions were made in the interest of ensuring that post-secondary institutions would not lose revenue; the bulk of which comes from students’ tuition fees.
Similarly, campus reopening plans are not being made with students and on-campus workers in mind. Lack of government action to support students in the province has already left many students questioning how they will afford the upcoming school year. Without increased government support, institutions have done little to meaningfully support students at a time when they need lower tuition fees, enhanced mental health supports, and greater financial support through non-repayable grants and bursaries. At the same time, institutions are leaving out those who will be impacted most by reopening plans, as they forge ahead with little meaningful consultation with students and workers.
Institutions prioritizing profits over the needs of students is not unique to the COVID-19 pandemic. Decades of cuts to public funding for education – followed by continued underfunding – and shifting government and institutional priorities has resulted in post-secondary education being treated like a private sector business. As public funding continues to decrease as tuition fees rise, campuses in Ontario have seen an increase in precarious work and class sizes, and a shift towards corporatization and privatization.
This pandemic has highlighted what students, faculty and on-campus workers have known for a long time: that a post-secondary education system that is overly reliant on tuition fees and private sources of funding is unsustainable and is a hindrance to providing affordable, accessible and high quality education. Right now everything is changing. We must use this opportunity to unite and call for the revitalization of a publicly-funded, high quality, free post-secondary education system.
Take action here.