Students of the University of Saskatchewan rallied on Feb. 27 in an effort to push the provincial government to help make post-secondary more affordable for everyone.
Despite the chilly weather, around 50 students stood together in the U of S Bowl, holding signs and listening intently as each speaker took turns explaining the magnitude of the situation.
“We should be kept front of mind and top of the cheques to sign and not treated as an afterthought,” said Jamie Bell, the U of S Students’ Union vice-president operations and finance.
The USSU planned and led the rally as a way to build momentum behind their six calls to action for the Government of Saskatchewan ahead of the new provincial budget.
These calls surround the issue of funding for students and the university, and were first released by the union in December 2019. At the rally, USSU President Regan Ratt-Misponas said that the demands were reasonable for the provincial government to address in a timely manner.
“These six points are very small changes that we are hoping that the Government of Saskatchewan will implement in this next provincial budget,” Ratt-Misponas said. “And these six points add to the larger picture of ensuring that post-secondary education is affordable and accessible for the students today and the students to come.”
Miguel Dela Peña, a third-year English honours student who attended the rally, says tuition is a big concern for him and most university students.
“It’s discouraging, to say the least. By the time I finish my undergrad, [tuition will] already have gone up quite a bit from today and I already think it’s a lot right now,” Dela Peña said. “I’m doing a master’s so I can get a better chance at a better job to pay off student debt, but now it just seems like it’s gonna bury me deeper.”
One of the calls to action by the USSU is for the province to offer scholarships, grants and bursaries for international students. Abhineet Goswami, the University Students’ Council international students’ representative, voiced his frustrations with how the international students’ tuition differential is a barrier for his and his peers’ success.
“I am hundreds of miles apart from my home, paying [more than] twice the amount of [domestic] tuition. I have no other choice because I have to survive here. This is not just my story. This is the story of all international students,” Goswami said.
“The university uses fancy words like “internationalization,” “diversity,” “equality,” “inclusiveness,” but [when we] come here and do a reality check, [they] seem to be wrong.”
The rally came shortly after the university’s proposed hikes to graduate tuition, still to be approved by the Board of Governors on March 23. The proposed increases would mean that graduate students’ tuition would go up 50 per cent or more in the next five years. U of S professor Claire Card, one of the speakers at the rally, says that students are frustrated about the lack of consultation for these big tuition increases.
“What we’ve experienced is [that] consultation seems to take the form of announcements. We aren’t really consulted at all,” Card said. “Let’s be real that enormous debt is a discouragement [from] attending university. Right now, all paths lead to banks and loans.”
The USSU followed up on the rally’s requests during their conversation with Minister of Advanced Education Tina Beaudry-Mellor during the University Students’ Council meeting later on the same day. While the minister seemed receptive to the students’ calls to action, she made no promises.
Ratt-Misponas emphasizes that for the province’s growth plans to succeed, they will need a stronger commitment to education affordability.
“The province of Saskatchewan is now working on growth and to ensure growth, this is the place that we need to start,” Ratt-Misponas said. “It starts with students.”
Kristine Jones A. Del Socorro
Photo: Kristine Jones A. Del Socorro