Education is a Right campaign hits the streets

On Wednesday, Feb. 3, UVSS executives and  students alike will take to the streets in protest of rising tuition. The rally, organized by the UVSS as part of their Education is a Right campaign, is part of a larger day of action protesting increasing tuition fees and student debt.

This will be the first time since 2010 that the UVSS has held a day of action dedicated solely to the issue of student debt.

“We’ve seen a lot of mobilization on student issues across the world and across the country in recent times,” said Brontë Renwick-Shields,  UVSS Chairperson. “B.C. is one of the worst provinces in the country for student debt, and I think organizing students on that issue is really important and timely right now.”

On the day of the rally, students will be greeted with a free breakfast outside the SUB starting at 9 a.m., as well as a line of buses ready to take participants down to Centennial Square.

“At 11:30 [a.m.], we’ll be leaving Centennial, marching along Government [Street] and we’ll get to the [legislative] buildings around 12,” said Kenya Rogers, UVSS Director of External Relations. “Once we get there, there’ll be a DJ and a few keynote speakers from different areas of the student movement.”

“We’ll be having a band play, and folks can hang out for a bit and then head back,” added Renwick-Shield. “And we’re going to be having an after-party at Felicita’s as well for the folks that came out and organized.”

As the spring of 2017 brings with it a provincial election, Rogers and Renwick-Shields hope that if students make noise now, the issue of student debt will be integrated into party platforms.

UVic students will be joined at the rally by students from across B.C., including Vancouver, mainland B.C., Nanaimo, as well as our neighbours from Camosun College.

While the day of action almost seems more like a party than a social protest, it will be addressing much larger issues.

“What we’ve seen in the past two decades is essentially this corporatization of post-secondary education, to the point that it’s being put really far out of reach for folks that come from socio-economic backgrounds that are lower than the average,” said Rogers, “and it’s starting to increase the gap between the richest and poorest Canadians . . . that are actually able to access post-secondary education. And obviously those effects are even more tremendous for women of colour and folks with disabilities and indigenous communities.”

Ultimately, the Education is a Right campaign is meant to facilitate a shift away from the idea that education is a privilege not everyone should have access to. Instead, Rogers said, “education is actually a right . . . it’s something that we as communities agree that matters to everyone.”

To complement the rally, the UVSS is also in the process of distributing petitions — both in paper and online — which will be delivered to the Minister of Advanced Education on Feb. 3. The cause has garnered over 3 000 signatures on paper but only 75 online (at the time of writing) — though these numbers are steadily increasing.

The petition outlines the two asks of the campaign: “a federal framework for post-secondary education that would look similar to the [Canada Health Act],” and the “immediate freeze on tuition [increases] in B.C.,” said Rogers. It also calls for the gradual elimination of tuition fees in B.C. over the next decade, Renwick-Shield added.

While the elimination of tuition may seem unattainable to some, Rogers and Renwick-Shields do not believe that to be the case.

“Over 20 countries across the world have already made tuition free, so it’s not this impossible idea — it’s something that people are recognizing is a social good . . . post-secondary education is something that’s becoming more and more necessary just to get access to entry-level positions,” Renwick-Shields said. “At a point in time, high school education cost money, but once it became necessary for people to access jobs, it became free and that’s what we’re saying about post-secondary: that it’s come to that point, and post-secondary needs to be something that’s accessible to all and not just a privileged factor of society.”

“We hope to see lots of students out there,” she added. “Come out, hit the streets with us.”

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