The Debt-Free Degree campaign mobilizes students to fight for financial support

The Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) announced its participation in Debt-Free Diploma Campaign on November 3, joining a coalition of eight other student unions that collectively represent more than 250,000 undergraduate students in Canada. Since then, SSMU has encouraged students to voice their concerns about student debt by writing postcards to their local MP through Led by the Undergraduate students from Canadian research-intensive universities (UCRUs) and the Western University College Student Councilthe campaign aims to advocate for increased financial support from the Canadian federal government for post-secondary students.

The coalition includes the University of British Columbia Alma Mater Societythe University of Manitoba Students’ Unionthe McMaster Student Unionthe University of Saskatchewan Students’ Unionthe University of Toronto Students’ Unionthe Queen’s University Alma Mater Societyand the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association. The coalition aims to advocate for two financial support measures: a two-year grace period on all Canada student loans and a doubling of investments in the Canada Student Grants Program.

Mackenzy Metcalfe, President of UCRU, explained why the organization chose student financial aid as a central campaign demand.

“Students in Canada face significant financial barriers in their pursuit of higher education,” Metcalfe wrote. “The average amount of student debt in Canada is $28,000, which weighs heavily on students as they enter the workforce and start life after graduation. [….] This campaign is important because investing in students is truly an investment in the future. We will train the workforce of tomorrow, and increasing student financial aid funding will undoubtedly see exponential returns.

Metcalfe encouraged students to attend the upcoming UCRU Federal Convention lobby week November 23-27, where the coalition will meet with MPs to highlight student concerns.

“SSMU will be participating in the UCRU Lobby Week, along with the other UCRU schools, where we will bring these student concerns to MPs and advocate on issues such as increased student financial aid , support for Indigenous students, increased research opportunities for undergraduates, and supports for international students,” Metcalfe wrote.

Olivia Osso, U3 Arts, spoke with the McGill Grandstand on the coalition’s attempts to increase public awareness and financial support for post-secondary students, especially given the financial situation instability caused by COVID-19.

“It’s always been difficult for post-secondary students to overcome financial barriers,” Osso said. “With COVID-19, however, these challenges have an added layer of uncertainty. Will new graduates be able to find jobs right away? So many people are already losing their jobs after years of stable employment. Thanks for student loans and doubling investments are some of the things the federal government can do, but that would only be the start.

SSMU Vice President of External Affairs Ayo Ogunremi explained the campaign’s future goals for student engagement at McGill in an email to Grandstand.

“The McGill administration isn’t exactly an ally of students on tuition issues,” Ogunremi said. “However, McGill students can form networks of solidarity and build local capacity to challenge the structure of university funding. [….] Our Accessible Education and Academics Policy recognizes that our advocacy on student tuition must always aim to eventually eliminate tuition and ancillary fees [and seeking] alternative funding structures that do not place the burden on students.

Ogunremi described the achievements of the current campaign so far, saying that UCRU representatives have communicated with key government actors.

“The effects of the campaign are hard to say so far, but I think it’s safe to say there have been some small wins,” said Ogunremi. “The campaign is gaining more and more attention across the country and UCRU representatives were able to make these points to key federal ministers like the Honorable Mona Fortier, Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance, and the Honorable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity. and Inclusion and Youth.

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