Postsecondary townhall gets students questioning the process

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Written by Jenn Watt

The Postsecondary Review townhall found an impressive turnout of students, workers, faculty and administrators last Wednesday night at Rozanski Hall. Yielding comments on underfunding, accessibility, structure and participation, the two-hour time limit was not nearly enough.

Among those who spoke of possible recommendations for the Review, most demanded more financial help. While many participants spoke of their recommendations for the Review, which reports to the provincial government in January, there was a strong trend of students and workers criticizing the Review itself.

Toni Xerri, a union worker from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, local 3913, gave an impassioned plea for citizens to look at education in a different light. "Why is it that we can't conceive of a free education?" he asked the crowd, referencing Canadians' expectations of public healthcare, elementary and secondary education.

A student criticized the Review's lack of acknowledgement of Black students, pointing out the image of a Black man on the cover of the discussion paper, but no mention of Black youth inside.

Ryan White, the external commissioner of the Central Student Association reported the CSA's survey results on accessibility. "No doubt the largest barrier for students is a financial one," stated White. "87% of students here identify the largest barrier being financial."

To each criticism, the panel - consisting of Leslie Church (a law student), Bob Rae (former NDP premier of Ontario and current lawyer) and Don Drummond (Sr. Vice President of TD bank) - would give a response, usually in the form of an opinion or rebuttal.

After holding 20 roundtable discussions and thirteen townhall meetings, the panel assured the audience that there would be recommendations regarding the unaffordable nature of postsecondary education for low-income students. Likewise, the quality of education is slipping, according to Rae. "The student-to-faculty ratio is getting too high," especially for third and fourth year university students, he explained. He also expressed worries that the public is more interested in the failing healthcare system than that of postsecondary education.

Changes to the system were rarely mentioned, though the suggestions brought forth were strong. Alastair Summerlee, president of the University of Guelph, asked that more schools be rewarded for collaborative projects - such as Guelph-Humber, or the Trellis library sharing system.

Guelph was the Review's 13th townhall meeting out of 17, the last will be held in Toronto on December 8th.

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