In a weird case of life imitating protest, last Thursday afternoon started with University of Guelph students protesting the rising cost of post-secondary education, but it likely ended with them celebrating as the Ontario government announced in its Budget provisions designed to make a university education more affordable. Back in the morning though, the excitement was palpable as U of G student activists, basking in the glow of shutting down the Board of Governors meeting last year, tried to get the administration's attention again.
Part of the Canadian Federation of Students - Ontario's province-wide week of action for accessible and public education, the U of G's Day of Action for Education and Equity aimed to advocate for a freeze in tuition fees in addition to other accessibility measures, get a commitment from Senior Administration to address anti-black racism on campus, divestment from fossil fuel companies, and better job security for CUPE 1334 workers. That's quite the bucket list of demands, but the occasion was bolstered by the presence of two student activists from the Student Representative Council of the University of Witwatersrand: Nompendulo Mkatshwa, President, and Karabo Marutha, Treasurer. They helped lead a successful campaign to stop a 11.5 per cent tuition fee increase in South Africa last October.
“The Board of Governors has increased tuition fees by the maximum amount each year since 2006, despite student and worker opposition,” said Sonia Chwalek, Communications and Corporate Affairs Commissioner of the Central Students Association in a press release. “This disproportionately affects low-income students and marginalized groups. What is especially concerning is the treatment of these increases as basic, assumed standards when budgeting for university operations. There is an irresponsible complacency among Senior Administrators, with no plans for how this growing reliance on tuition fees, at the expense of students, can be addressed and remediated.”
The following Guelph Politico video captures some of the highlights from the rally, and includes an interview with Mkatshwa and Marutha about how they were successful in their efforts in South Africa, and the similarities they see between their struggle and that of the student activists at U of G.