Students at the University of Ottawa will see their tuition fees hiked for the ninth consecutive year, effective in September. In a vote of 18-3, the uOttawa Board of Governors voted overwhelmingly in favour of increasing tuition fees by the maximum legal amount under the current provincial tuition fee framework: 3% for domestic undergraduate students and 5% for domestic graduate students and those in “professional programs”. International student fees will rise 10%. The three elected student representatives on the Board were the only ones to vote against these hikes.
Four days before the scheduled meeting of the Board, the Chair made a unilateral decision to move the annual budget meeting and tuition vote to a closed teleconference call. Our student representatives immediately expressed concerns that students and the community would be shut out of this meeting. The student representatives asserted that public funds should be discussed in public venues. The Chair ignored these concerns and students were effectively blocked from the meeting.
However, student resilience resulted in mobilization as students united in opposition to tuition hikes and the illegitimate process undertaken by the highest decision-making body of our university. Students flooded #uottawa on Twitter to voice their anger and to share their personal struggles. Additionally, students came together in numbers on the steps of Tabaret Hall to rally in opposition to the Board of Governors. Shut out from the meeting, students and media outlets gathered around a speaker to hear student representatives advocate for student interests.
The teleconference began when undergraduate student representative Myriam Whalen motioned to postpone the meeting because important budget documents were only sent to Board members an hour before the teleconference began, limiting their ability to properly analyze this information prior to a vote. This motion was overwhelmingly defeated.
The meeting went on to feature further anti-student rhetoric and a clear lack of transparency. Highlights include a conversation between Board member JP Bisnaire (VP at Manulife) and the Chair of the Board: “Are we still live streamed?” “Yes” “Okay, we’ll talk later then”; uOttawa VP Resources Marc Joyal admitting a strategy of increasing university revenue off the backs of international students; and President Allan Rock saying that family status and family values, and not tuition fees, are the barriers to post-secondary education.
Undergraduate student representative Vincent Mousseau motioned to include a tuition freeze in the budget for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year. Undergraduate student representative Myriam Whalen proposed a motion for the Treasury Committee to draft alternative budgets next year, including one that considers a tuition fee freeze. Both motions were overwhelmingly defeated. This disheartening defeat solidified the reality that the Board of Governors will not consider alternatives and refuses to work with students.
The budget that included the tuition hikes passed with our student representatives being the only Board members to vote against it. The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa strives not only to achieve a system of post secondary education which is accessible to all, but also one which recognizes the legitimacy of student representation and validity of student rights. The SFUO will continue to work with students across campus to ensure that throughout the year the message from students to President Allan Rock and other members of the administration is clear: as the largest stakeholders on campus, student interests and realities are integral and cannot be ignored at the University of Ottawa. To get involved in making student voices heard contact firstname.lastname@example.org.