Students oppose deregulation of fees in campus referendum.
Undergraduate students at Queen's University have overwhelmingly rejected the deregulation of arts and science tuition fees. In a campus-wide referendum that saw a record-breaking 45 per cent voter turnout, nearly 92 per cent of students instructed the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Society to strongly oppose the deregulation of tuition fees.
ASUS President Ryan Naidoo said the heavy voter turnout and the overwhelming response against deregulation gives the undergraduate society "a clear mandate.
"We can now go to the administration with the knowledge students want reassurance that access to a Queen's education will not be sacrificed," Naidoo said. "Never in memory has there been such an overwhelming turnout."
The referendum was organized by a coalition of student activists concerned about recent public statements made by Principal William Leggett who suggested the administration was in favour of removing provincially mandated caps on tuition.
In an interview with Policy Options in September, Leggett noted that although Ontario has deregulated tuition in many programs, the provincial government still sets allowable fee increases for arts, science and education. "Our real problems now are in arts, science and education, where tuition remains regulated and increases were recently limited to two per cent per year for the next five years," Leggett said. "That stifles our ability to invest in real innovation and quality in these areas."
Following these statements, students concerned about the impact of deregulation on tuition fees and access for lower income students immediately formed a coalition to fight the plan. In November, the Coalition Against Deregulation invited David Robinson, CAUT's director of public policy and communications and a Queen's graduate, to speak at a public forum on the issue.
"Deregulation will shut the doors to low income and working class students," Robinson said. "This scheme is about creating a privatized, two-tier education system where the size of your wallet is what matters most."
Robinson rejected claims that Queen's was being forced to consider deregulation because of reduced revenues. He presented detailed financial data showing the university is in "very good financial health."
Following the forum, the coalition pressed the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Society to hold a referendum on the issue in order to put increased pressure on the administration. Mike Pal of the Coalition Against Deregulation was surprised by the record-breaking voter turnout and attributed it to Leggett's dismissal of student concerns.
"Leggett said that while he values student input, he would not find the results of a referendum binding," Pal noted. "I think that made people angry and they felt he was dismissive of student opinion and that's why there was such a huge turnout."
Coalition member Dave Contant said the referendum results show that students are deeply concerned about the prospect of deregulation.
"Students have shown this is an issue they are passionate about and they want to have a voice in," Contant explained. "They're willing to take time to learn about the issue and to have a say."