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Dispatch from Ottawa: Matt's UCRU Recap
Guest blog from VP Education Matthew Gerrits
Hello fellow students! I’m very excited to let you know that Feds was at Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 3 to 5 to talk about federal priorities for students on our campus with members of Parliament.
Feds President Richard Wu and I partnered up with a group of six other large research-intensive university student associations under a common banner of UCRU (you-crew) or Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities. For many of us, it was our first time in Ottawa, and we were lucky to have great experiences like seeing one of the last question periods to be held in Centre Block for the next decade or so, as well as seeing a holiday light show on Parliament Hill. But obviously, most of our waking hours were spent preparing for our lobby meetings and pitching our ideas to those who might want to turn them into action.
Our student associations from across the country came together to talk about five focus areas for the federal government, with messages about good policy that spanned across party lines. Our policy was researched and authored by students, including myself, and put into readable briefs for politicians and public servants.
Briefly, here are the priorities we focused on while in Ottawa:
1. Undergraduate Research Funding
There is this cool program available to STEM fields which allows some students to take a term off to do research, and get a stipend while doing it. We were asking for the amount awarded under the stipend to reflect at least minimum wage.
We also asked for funding for the program to be expanded to allow more opportunities, including in non-STEM fields. We were asking for about 50 million dollars for this program per year going forward.
2. Tax Credits
Currently, the federal government provides some tax relief to students equivalent to approximately 15% of tuition paid. While this is great support for students, UCRU is asking for the credits to be repurposed into grants to give support to students at the start of their educational years when they need it most, costing no more than is currently foregone in revenue, and making the system means-tested.
3. International Students
One of our other non-fiscal asks was to change eligibility requirements for a program called the Canada Experience Class Express Entry program, to help let international students count time spent on co-ops and work experiences during their education toward earning their permanent residency.
4. Indigenous Students
Our asks around Indigenous students focused on the Post-Secondary Student Support program, one way that the federal government has tried to boost achievement rates among Canada’s Indigenous communities. We highlighted the need for increased funding and improvements to the administration of the program, echoing concerns and recommendations put forward by the Assembly of First Nations.
5. Canadian Copyright Act
We asked the government to maintain a specific law around use of copyright in education that saves students a lot of money by allowing small portions of copyrighted works to be used without substantial licensing fees.
None of these recommendations are achieved yet, but we hope to see changes in the coming months and years. Advocacy is a long road, and Feds will be sure to let you know updates as they are available!