Your president's message to Minister Phillips

Abbie Simpson
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 16:15

WUSA was invited to speak at the Ontario Minister of Finance's consultations in advance of the fall 2020 budget.
"Across Ontario and around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reshape the way we live, work and do business. That’s why we’re listening to the people of Ontario as we prepare the Fall 2020 Ontario Budget."
Good Afternoon Minister Phillips. Thank you for inviting us to participate in this process. 

The Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) represents over 34,000 undergraduate students studying at the University of Waterloo. We are committed to accessible, affordable and high-quality education. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, students across Ontario are facing unique challenges. We believe investments in four key areas will provide effective pandemic support to Ontario’s post-secondary students. My focus today will be on Student Financial Aid, Work Integrated Learning, Support for Online Learning and Supporting our International Students. 

Students are adversely affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19, with over 70% of students citing financial concerns about paying tuition, increasing student debt and managing living expenses. This pandemic has also exposed the technological divide between those with computer and internet access and those without. Indigenous students are particularly affected by this. 

To help students facing these challenges and ensure equitable access to post-secondary education for all, I am calling on the Province to introduce a needs assessment to provide technology grants and increase the grants provided to students, based on financial need. 

COVID-19 has also resulted in substantial labour market disruptions that have diminished employment prospects for students and new grads across Ontario.  

Programs like the Career Ready Fund have led to thousands of new experiential education opportunities and have seen development of new programs to help connect students with employers across Ontario. 

This program’s initial investment in 2017 was $68 million over three years. We ask the Province to continue and expand the Career Ready Fund to support development of new skill-building, research and international opportunities for Ontario’s students 

The transition to online learning has been challenging for students. We have experienced academic disruptions such as the delay or cancellation of work placements and postponement or cancellation of courses. Some students will not graduate as planned. With universities now planning to remain online in Winter 2021, these challenges are likely to persist. 

To best support students in this transition to the “new normal”, I request the Province support our universities with increased grant funding to support online learning, so the financial burden does not get passed on to students.  

International students are not exempt from the challenges facing other students in Ontario. Many are struggling to keep up with studies while back in their home countries and those seeking to return are burdened by high quarantine costs and challenging logistics.  

48% of Canada’s 640,000 international students call Ontario home, contributing $4.4 billion to Ontario’s economy and sustaining 54,000 jobs in our Province. They are also a vital source of talented and skilled labour for our workforce. International students provide Ontario with a global competitive edge and ensure Ontario is Open for Business.  

To that end, we request the Province to urgently regulate international tuition to prevent pandemic-driven tuition hikes that hinder our ability to attract and retain international students.  

Once again Minister Phillips, thank you for inviting us to participate in this process. Please review our written submission for further details and I look forward to any questions you may have.