Tensions are high among Ontario college students returning to school after the province's longest strike in history.
Following the end of the five-week strike, the provincial government put forth two options of compensation to Ontario students: either a full tuition refund for those who are not willing to continue the semester, or up to $500 in damages for those who are. While these options are a good start, they are definitely nowhere near good enough, according to student unions across the province.
The full tuition refund is financially fair, however, in order to avail of it, students will need to withdraw from their programs entirely and reapply again for admission. This means students could lose a full academic year, as there is no guarantee they would get into their programs the second time around. It would be unfair to make students choose between getting their money back and keeping a spot in a program that one already rightfully earned.
In terms of the $500 compensation, many students believe it will not cover all of the time and money they lost during the strike. And even if it were enough, some say it has been incredibly difficult to access the student support fund at all, as there are a lot of terms and processes to keep track of.
When applying for compensation, students are required to provide evidence of financial need, but were not warned ahead of time that they would need to hang on to proofs of purchase for travel or accommodation. Also, for certain colleges, those who end up accepting compensation may not be able to recover at a later date. Here's an excerpt of an email sent to a Seneca student going through the application process:
"By accepting up to $500 compensation for my incremental expenses, I agree that I will not seek to recover in any other forum or proceeding a duplicate payment for the same incremental expenses that Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology has compensated me for. Further, by accepting up to $500 compensation for my incremental expenses, I agree and acknowledge that Seneca College of Applied Arts And Technology does not admit any liability in relation to the strike."
The fact that there's an application process at all is unfair. Some students are being turned away from financial assistance because they simply don't qualify, and that the unions think that shouldn't be the case. All students should be made eligible to receive compensation because they've all experienced hardship as a result of the strike. There shouldn't be a need to apply for compensation at all.
Student unions are fighting for more money to be allocated to the student support fund, and for all full-time students across the province's 24 colleges to be eligible for compensation.
Absolute bs that students have to apply for up to $500 reimbursement. 500,000 students were effected. 500,000 students should be getting a refund. No criteria to meet, no applications. #OntarioCollegeStrike— Fayeoncé (@FayeCera)
It is insulting that this "student hardship" fund requires receipts for proof of missed bills, etc, throughout this strike. This should automatically be given to every single student who was unwillingly put through this strike. #COLLEGESTRIKE #ontariocollegestrike— JP (@jusdiso)
The process for this $500 bandaid (that now most can't receive) is an absolute joke. What are you @humbercollege going to do for the rest of us that were put out that don't hold on to every receipt? @ONeducation @Kathleen_Wynne #ontariocollegestrike— JP (@jusdiso)
The fact that I MIGHT be eligible to get UP TO $500 is not good enough. @gvollebregt @OPSEU @Kathleen_Wynne @whatsinsideslc @KingstonRegion @OttawaCitizen @CBCOttawa @metroottawa @ontariocolleges #ontariocollegestrike— Magda (@amagdala)
Those who have decided to continue the semester are also speaking out, sharing their deep concerns about the effects of the shortened semester on their mental health.
Professors are now scrambling to condense weeks worth of material into single days, leaving students with the challenge of completing halted assignments, essays, and exam studying with a significant knowledge gap:
One of my profs is already resuming class as if the strike never happened and my anxiety levels are skyrocketing. I’m genuinely terrified for my mental health. #ontariocollegestrike— Bridget (@bridgetbradley_)
Does buying excessive amounts of energy drinks and cups of coffee to keep up with the rest of the semester after the strike count as unexpected costs and can go towards my application for the Ontario college hardship fund????????????? #askingforafriend— Hailey Caravaggio (@hailscaravaggio)
Impacts of #ontariostrike on students isn't just a matter of making up 5 weeks of lost time + content. To approach back-to-classroom planning in this way completely obscures the realities our students are living.— Jodi (@DrJodiHall)
I have 5 exams next week as well as an 8 page essay and a 20 minute presentation. All due to the Ontario Colleges Strike. And I work close to full time hours. This is so ridiculous— Emro (@IamEMRO)
Perhaps the better move would have been to cancel the semester altogether, issue the appropriate refunds without conditions, and start fresh later on.