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Students press Ontario to make tuition fees part of post-secondary proposal

Tuition fees have risen five per cent this fall for Ontario post-secondary students. Ontarians pay the highest tuition in Canada.

A student group says Ontario is leaving key issues such as rising tuition fees and student debt out of a province-wide conversation on post-secondary education.

The Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students held a news conference Friday to press the province to add access to education to the agenda as it considers other reforms.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities held consultations over the summer on a proposal before the government to shorten undergraduate degrees and offer more online classes.

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Sarah Jayne King, head of the student group, says the proposal overlooks the importance of affordable education, which is a key issue that concerns most students.

Ms. King accuses the province of looking to save money without considering the quality of education that college and university students will be receiving.

A spokesman for the ministry says focus is on improving the student learning experience, teaching quality, student affordability and learning outcomes.

"In order to achieve these objectives, post-secondary education has to change if it is going to be financially sustainable in the long term, given the new economic realities," Gyula Kovacs said in a statement.

The invite-only consultations over the summer with administrators, union representatives and select students were hard to get into, some say.

Brea Hutchinson, a campus representative from Trent University, was one of the few who knew about the consultations and applied to participate.

Two days before the Trent University delegation was supposed to head to Sudbury, Ont., for the meeting, the ministry called to tell them the number of students attending had been capped, she said. Ms. Hutchinson was persistent and was allowed to be the only representative from Trent to attend.

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But her relief was short-lived. She was eager to speak on behalf of students, but when she did offer ideas, she said she felt like she wasn't heard.

"There was belittling conversation and condescending attitudes from administrators who saw students as not necessarily having much of a place in discussing where education is going," she said.

The ministry has since sent out an invitation to Ontario universities, inviting campus representatives to voice their interests in ongoing consultations.

A recent Statistics Canada report said tuition for full-time undergraduate students in Canada is five per cent higher this year.

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