Education lobbyists complete weeklong conference in Ottawa

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

USC President Stephen Lecce and Minister of Labour Rona Ambrose

Courtesy of Stephen Lecce

SCHMOOZING LIKE IT’S PART OF HIS JOB … WAIT IT IS. Minister of Labour Rona Ambrose was one of many dignitaries University Students’ Council President Stephen Lecce met with last week in Ottawa at an annual conference hosted by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. Lecce, along with USC VP-university affairs Jacqueline Cole, also met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff during the week.

While students were busy cramming for exams, individuals from various Canadian student governments met with federal government officials in Ottawa last week to discuss the state of Canada’s post-secondary education.

Since government funding is decreasing across the country, students and government representatives discussed solutions to maintaining the quality and accessibility of education.

In total, over 150 Senators, Members of Parliament and government officials took part in the weeklong discussions, which coincided with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations annual lobby conference. CASA is an alliance of student associations from across Canada.

“Overall the lobbying went really well,” Jacqueline Cole, University Students’ Council VP-university affairs and Western’s representative in the negotiations, said. “All our points were received really well by all parties.”

Cole, alongside USC President Stephen Lecce and USC policy analyst Scott Courtice, took part in the discussions.

In total, CASA gathered 24 lobbyists and arranged for them to attend 160 separate meetings.

“This is the first time in history that a student group has met with every leader and every party. This is evidence that people care about these issues,” Zach Churchill, national director of CASA, said.

“At this conference we are focusing on new programs which are going to be available in the near future. Although it is really hard asking for more money because of the country’s current economic situation, we are still implementing new programs,” Cole added.

Western students will be impacted by CASA’s accomplishments last week, according to Cole. She explained the cost of textbooks could be directly reduced as a result of negotiations with the federal government.

“CASA has played an integral role in obtaining grants for students and ensuring the ability to afford a post-secondary education is possible. It is extremely beneficial to students that grants increase in proportion to inflation,” she said.

According to Cole, the solutions presented were about funding student education realistically. Discussions also focused on the quality of academic materials, copyright laws and graduate student funding.

“There’s been a big discussion coming up in recent years about copyright and how to deal with copyright in the age of digital information. The question has been how to protect producers in this era of so much information available,” Churchill said, explaining the copyright debate.

“Things that could be affected include WebCT and online databases. We are looking to find legislation that both protects producers and allows students to use information for learning and knowledge building. The government can’t provide 19th century solutions to a 21st century challenge,” he added.

“For example, the Canadian Student Grant Program will expand from $350 million in funding to $430 million over the next few years. This program is designed to reduce student debt and help students designated at the high needs level,” Cole explained.

Another example is the new optional Repayment Assistance Plan that will start in the coming months. The RAP ensures low income graduates will only pay affordable payments during the first five years and after 15 years all debts will be forgiven.

“Canada is the only country in the world that allows importers to charge a tax on books that come from out of the country,” Churchill said.

“This money is levied directly on to students. If we simply eliminate this legislation we will save students $30 million a year.”

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