Saskatchewan students unite to take on provincial budget cuts

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The University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union is reforming the Saskatchewan Students’ Coalition as a way to unify with other institutions in the province and lobby against post-secondary cuts, after the austerity measures implemented by the provincial government on March 22.

When the annual provincial was budget announced, revealing that funding to advanced education would be reduced by 5 per cent, it left the U of S scrambling to allocate money towards its base budget. The tuition for the 2017-18 academic year was already set to increase by only 2.3 per cent by the time the provincial budget was dropped. However, students worry about tuition increases next year.

Mackenzie Stewart, first-year student in the College of Law and alumna from the College of Arts and Science, explains that students may want to advocate for accessible education, but they likely do not have time to dedicate towards it.

“Most students are just trying to get by. They’re not thinking about really pushing for change or pushing for reform,” Stewart said. “Which is why I’m happy our students’ union is taking on some of that responsibility now and [advocating] for students, because I do think it’s important.”

The SSC is set to launch a website and Facebook page so students can access information such as meeting minutes.

David D’Eon, president of the USSU and chair of the coalition, is working with the SSC to create a lasting impact and to insure that the Government of Saskatchewan recognizes the needs of students.

“I question how much students have legitimacy to the provincial government … We’re very much committed to working with the government if we can, but we haven’t received any indication yet that that’s going to be the way forward. So if not, we have a strategy for that. We’ll move forward the best we can,” D’Eon said.

Martin Gaal, a lecturer in the department of political studies, discusses the impact of the largest cut to funding in the university’s history.

“The ability to weather this austerity will depend on whether it is the new normal or a short-term measure to balance the books. It will also depend on the leadership of the university to adjust and plan for the future,” Gaal said. “In the end, the austerity measures, whether you agree with them or not, should be taken as a reflection of the government’s priorities.”

The provincial coalition is made up of the student executives of the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, the University of Regina, Briercrest College and Seminary, Saskatchewan Polytechnic and both the USSU and the Graduate Students’ Association from the U of S. D’Eon discusses the likelihood that the government will restrict tuition increases for next year.

“The institution itself cannot support a tuition freeze at this time just because of the budget cuts,” D’Eon said. “So it would have to come from the provincial government, and … I see no indication of support for that.”

Stewart explains the difficulties encountered as a full-time student while working, volunteering and trying to pay bills, difficulties that will only increase with a rise in tuition.

“I haven’t let financial problems stop me, but there have been times when I’ve been pretty stressed out trying to balance everything … I wasn’t doing anything to the best of my abilities,” Stewart said.

D’Eon reports that he is continually seeking feedback about the coalition, which is why he will be reaching out for student participation at upcoming events throughout the year.

“When I say that tuition is getting too high, I have people that don’t believe me. It’s one thing if I’m saying it; it’s another thing if I have hundreds of students saying it,” D’Eon said. “You’re not alone. It’s a common struggle that a lot of people are going through right now, and it’s important to speak up and remember that your voice is valuable.”

Nykole King / News Editor

Graphic: Lesia KaralashGraphics Editor