Areas of Advocacy & Advocacy Successes
Graduate Student Mental Health
Many Ontario campuses are in a state of crisis regarding the challenges facing graduate students and the impact those challenges have on students' mental health. Despite years of new investments into mental health initiatives on Ontario campuses little has been done to address the unique needs of the graduate student population specifically. We need more counselors, more graduate student specific services, and a recognition from the Province that undergraduate and graduate students require differentiated service frameworks at on-campus health services.
Tuition and ancillary fees
The cost of an education in Ontario continues to get more expensive and while the Province has instituted a cap on tuition increases the Universities have offset this cap by raising ancillary fees on students. When Universities cannot raise tuition prices, they raise what they can and students are now bearing the burden of funding new vanity and legacy projects all across the Province. There has to be a stricter ancillary fee protocol which prevents Universities from downloading the cost of every new project onto students.
Sexual and Gendered Violence
The OGSA believes survivors and we believe that sexual and gendered violence on Ontario campuses demands more comprehensive and collaborative solutions than the schools and the province have put forward. Universities themselves should not act in place of the police, or the courts, and should not come to their own conclusions about the veracity of sexual and gendered violence accusations on Ontario campuses. We need to empower survivors rather than protect perpetrators.
Students with Disabilities
Far too often the unique needs of students with disabilities are ignored by administration officials and never considered by public servants. Graduate students with disabilities face particularly acute challenges on Ontario campuses, most notably a significant discrepancy in service levels provided to them compared to those available to undergraduate students. Additionally, social stigmas surrounding disabilities remain prevalent, compounding existing challenges such as campus buildings failing to meet AODA requirements. The OGSA is partnering with the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the Regroupment Étudiant Franco-Ontarien to publish a government submission on students with disabilities, which will provide actionable recommendations to the Government.
Graduate student funding
The hallmark of a graduate education in Ontario, minimum funding guarantees, is slowly becoming a rarity. Increasingly, administrations are curtailing the amount of funding, teaching, and research opportunities for graduate students because costs are going up and Provincial transfers to Universities haven't gone up in a decade. Without funding for research and teaching opportunities the value proposition of a graduate education will disappear, we need a renewed commitment by the Province and by the Universities to protect funding for research and teaching opportunities.
International student tuition
International student tuition has skyrocketed over the last decade. Because of the cap on tuition increases for domestic students Universities have raised tuition on international students exponentially as a way to balance out those domestic tuition caps. International students are effectively being used to subsidize the post-secondary education sector. While international students do not pay taxes like domestic students do, the tuition increases have nothing to do with fairness but rather have everything to do with Universities needing to squeeze every dollar they can to afford increased operating costs. If we continue to let tuition for these students grow unregulated then our comparative advantage will be weakened and many students may look elsewhere for their education.
Secured graduate student access to the Ontario Student Grant
When the province originally unveiled their proposed system changes to OSAP, it did not include graduate student access to the Ontario Student Grant, the new block grant which would be responsible for giving "free" tuition to students. Through concerted lobbying over two years the OGSA helped to gain graduate students access to this grant, and with it more than $400-million in new, non-repayable, funding for low and middle income graduate students in Ontario. This grant ensures that no graduate student who's family earns less than $50,000 a year will have to pay for their education, and half of students whose families make less than $83,000 will have free tuition as well.
Secured increased funding for the PSSP
The OGSA helped to secure an additional $90-million in funding for the Post Secondary Student Support Program, a funding program from the Federal Government which provides financial assistance to First Nation and Inuit students. Announced in Federal Budget 2016 this program allows eligible students to receive financial aid while in pursuit of College and CEGEP diploma and certificate programs, undergraduate degree programs, and graduate and professional degree programs as well. The OGSA made advocating for this increase in funding a priority in 2015.
Secured changes to the 10-hour rule
The OGSA made the 10-Hour Rule, which stipulates that no graduate student may work more than 10-hours a week on-campus on average, a priority in 2016 and by the Winter had secured from the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies a rewording of the rule. While the OCGS did institute some of our recommendations, the rule nevertheless persists at some Ontario campuses and has created a decline in real wages for graduate students for more than 20 years now, the OGSA will continue to look for opportunities to reform this antiquated and unfair cap on graduate students' earning potential.