From College Hill to Parliament Hill: Consult students on funding

Ella Henry - From College Hill to Parliament Hill (Tom Bateman/AQ)

Every time an election rolls around, people begin to ask why youth don’t vote. People who no longer fall into the category of youth become obsessed with why youth aren’t engaged in politics. There are countless articles in papers across the country, experts on the evening news, and endless projects aimed at engaging youth.

But the same people who go on about the sad state of youth engagement around election time don’t bother to ask why many politicians refuse to engage youth in between elections.

If we expect youth to participate in our democracy, we should also expect our democratic institutions and elected representatives to take youth and students seriously.

New Brunswick’s Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour, Martine Coulombe, is one politician who should be paying attention to students. After all, we’re a large part of her portfolio.

Instead of engaging students and taking student concerns seriously, the minister is shutting students out of negotiations on a funding agreement for the province’s universities.

Universities and the provincial government are negotiating a four-year agreement on university funding this fall. This agreement will decide how much money our universities have to operate.

That means it will affect how big our classes are, how many of our courses are taught by part-time professors, what student services are offered, how much tuition fees will or will not be allowed to increase, and possibly even bring changes to student loans and debt relief programs.

While I’m confident our new university president will do a good job advocating for the interest of St. Thomas, the interests of university administrators are different than the interests of students.

Universities need more funding to operate, but they don’t have an interest in where that money comes from. Students do.

To universities, an increase in government funding or an increase in tuition fees amounts to the same thing. For students, the difference is enormous.

To students, years of increases in tuition fees will mean many students will not be able to go to university, others will take on thousands of dollars more debt and rely more on the food bank or emergency bursaries to make ends meet.

It’s important for students to be part of the negotiations, in the same room with university presidents and government officials – not “consulted” on the side.

In recent months, representatives from students’ unions have been invited to a series of meetings about student issues, most of which the minister hasn’t attended.

This fall, the government plans on holding consultations with students and negotiations with universities. The decisions will be made by government and universities, while students are shut out of the debate.

Settling for more faux consultations won’t protect students’ interests. Students’ right to participate in public decision-making is not a privilege to be granted or revoked at the whim of politicians. We have a right to be included in negotiations, like the ones that will take place this fall, that will affect our lives. It’s time for students and our representatives to make it clear that we won’t settle for being left on the sidelines.