Fund the Future ramped up on-campus and Patel met with political leaders
On November 8, the University of Regina Students’ Union’s (URSU) Fund the Future campaign rally culminated as students led by Oghenerukevwe Erifeta, URSU Vice President of Eternal Affairs, made a planned walk through the university. Beginning the walk at the Riddell Centre, students demanded an increase in post-secondary funding so that the continuous rise in tuition fees is addressed and some financial burden is lifted from students.
In September, the Carillon published an article on the Fund the Future report prepared by URSU’s advocacy team in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The report highlighted the decline in post-secondary funding in Saskatchewan in the last decade and compared it to trends in other provinces across Canada. The report displayed that per-student funding in Saskatchewan has decreased over the decade and domestic student tuition fees, already higher than the national average, have also increased over that time. It was also noted that Saskatchewan spent more on non-academic salaries and wages than academic salaries and wages, while the reverse was true in the rest of Canada as of 2019/20 and 2020/21.
In consideration of those facts, the Fund the Future campaign became even more important to domestic and international students who struggle to fund their education while tuition fees keep rising. Members of URSU have been making continual efforts to address the issue. In a linked initiative, Tejas Patel, URSU president, had a conversation with Gordon Wyant, Minister of Advanced Education, and Carla Beck, MLA for Regina Lakeview and Leader of the Official Opposition, about provincial post-secondary funding and the demands put forward by URSU.
URSU’s advocacy team drafted a separate document which highlighted the nine demands put forward by URSU to the provincial government. The published document goes into the details of each of the nine demands and is accessible to students at URSU’s front desk and on their website. This was put forward as a lobby document during Patel’s meeting with Wyant and Beck.
Patel told the Carillon, “We took this opportunity to speak with members of the legislature to put forward the demand for an increase in post-secondary funding and other important demands which we believe need attention. The nine recommendations that were put forward in this document are to relieve student debt; replace students’ loans with upfront non-repayable grants for low-income students; increase scholarships, bursaries, and grants for Indigenous as well as international students; fairness for international students; funding support for graduate students; addressing student mental health needs; creation of sexual assault and violence prevention policies; creation of Trans Rights legislation; addressing student food security; and addressing issues with performance-based funding.”
The published report by URSU gives an in-depth detailed analysis of all nine recommendations along with a cost analysis and budget estimation of what it would cost the provincial government to address each of them.
The report brings to attention that Saskatchewan presently charges borrowers the highest interest rate in Canada at a prime +2.5 per cent fixed interest rate and prime rate for floating interest loans. What that means is that students who do not have the means to cover their tuition upfront will pay more for the same education than their higher income peers.
As a result, many students graduate with a high student debt of over $25,000. To relieve the stress of student loans and debt, the report recommended the provincial government eliminate the interest on Saskatchewan student loans and extend the grace period for the repayment of student loans. Replacing student loans with upfront, non-repayable grants for low-income students was also suggested as a possible alternative for student loans. This would be particularly helpful to low-income and marginalized groups.
It was also mentioned that the Ministry of Advanced Education expected to increase enrolment of Indigenous students and release new enrolment goals for international students. If the number of Indigenous and international students enrolled as post-secondary students increases, it is essential that they receive adequate financial support to succeed. Indigenous and international students face higher unemployment rates than other students, and there is an observed trend of economic inaccessibility for these students even after attaining degrees.
URSU therefore included in the report a request for the creation of special scholarships for Indigenous and international students to address the inequities they face. They also asked the provincial government to lobby the federal government to increase band funding for post-secondary education, as per treaty rights, to ensure higher numbers of Indigenous students can achieve post-secondary education.
Funding support for graduate students was also requested. As per the report, URSU believes the creation of a Saskatchewan Graduate Scholarship modelled after the Ontario Graduate Scholarship would help in supporting and retaining graduate students in the province. The details of all the other demands can be found in the published report.
With the university’s four-year contract with the provincial government to be renewed next year, a revision in the government’s post-secondary funding budget is due. Patel is hopeful that the demands put forward by the students’ union will be considered.
“We have high hopes that government will support students. […] the discussion with the minister as well as Carla Beck went amazing, and they did appreciate the work that the students’ union is doing. They were very supportive.”
As the cost of everything around us keeps going up, any relief in the form of post-secondary funding would be a holy grail for university students. It would also be instrumental in addressing the problem of students dropping out of post-secondary institutions due to lack of funds. The other demands that talk about mental health, sexual assault prevention, Trans Rights legislation, and food security are also connected and in need of attention.
“We also want to have a couple of more meetings with the other colleagues in the future as well to discuss and explain to them what students attending post-secondary education really want,” said Patel.
With fingers crossed, students look to the provincial government to take note of their concerns and URSU’s efforts, and work toward an increase in funding for post-secondary education in Saskatchewan.