Students protest poverty on National Day of Action

In an act of solidarity, students united from coast-to-coast in a pan-Canadian effort to protest student poverty an demand government action Wed., Feb. 7.

The National Day of Action was the climax of an ambitious year-long campaign driven by the Canadian Federation of Students, the country’s largest student lobby organization. CFS represents approximately 500,000 post-secondary students across the country.

The CFS hopes the campaign will ultimately reduce tuition fees, increase federal post-secondary funding and create a national system of needs-based grants.

Though the University of Calgary Students’ Union is not a member of the CFS, they were invited to participate in the Day of Action alongside students from SAIT, Mount Royal College, Bow Valley College and the Alberta College of Art and Design. The event was held at ACAD and included a discussion panel, workshops and rally.

“In a province where we’re brimming with wealth, we’re seeing more and more students reject post-secondary education because of financial need,” said Edmonton-Calder MLA and panel speaker David Eggen.

First-year ACAD student Teagan Dumpleton explained her situation.

“I do not have a loan, I do not have a scholarship, and I don’t have a job,” said Dumpleton. “My parents are paying for everything right now–school, housing and groceries, but that doesn’t mean I have a free ride. I know my parents are not made of money, and I don’t want them to pay for everything and I don’t want them to become bankrupt or for them to have debts instead of me.”

According to the CFS, high tuition fees are mainly the consequence of tuition hikes made by the government over the past 16 years. Current tuition fees are more than twice what they would be, had tuition only increased at the rate of inflation.

Speakers also discussed how federal post-secondary budget cuts have created a severe gap between the actual funding per student and the required funding.

The discussion panel addressed this issue along with pressing concerns such as student debt and quality of education. The panel discussed universal education and reducing the voting age to 16 to better represent student priorities, but more viable suggestions included pressuring the provincial government to give out non-repayable grants instead of loans and increasing base operating funding.

U of C SU vice-president external Julie Labonte represented the U of C on the panel and expressed the need for lobbying as an effective means to achieve these targets.

“The [federal] finance committee recently came out with recommendations for a variety of things, including post-secondary education,’ said Labonte. “Every point we lobbied on out there, they adopted. On every level [of the government], we’ve had success.”

The panel discussion was followed by an interpretative movement piece by two of ACAD’s performing arts students.

In what was supposed to be an artistic demonstration for lower tuition fees, one actor–dressed in drag and a costumed horse head–danced around the stage before he suddenly received a merciless beating by the other actor who was dressed as a pimp.

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