#StudentsSpeakUp campaign brings students’ concerns to the forefront

By Margaret Spratt

Last week, the Manitoba Alliance of Post-Secondary Students concluded a two-week campaign to uplift student’s voices. 

“This campaign is kind of a way for us to close out the year,” said Melissa Ghidoni, vice president of external affairs for RRC’s Students’ Association, “and a way to bring forward more so to light the issues we’ve all been facing.”

The #StudentsSpeakUp campaign started conversations with Manitoba students about three key issues: collective bargaining, tuition raises, and international student healthcare. 

 #StudentsSpeakUp campaign poster. /KRISTIN SMITH

Collective bargaining is the negotiation process between a union and an employer. When the collective bargaining agreement expires, employees have the option to go on strike. 

The University of Manitoba almost saw a second strike in four years last November, but the faculty association and university came to an agreement days before faculty went on strike.

With RRC’s collective bargaining agreement expiring in mid-June of this year, it’s likely that RRC’s bargaining unit would be similar to the U of M’s, said Ghidoni. 

“We also want to make sure our instructors are getting paid and compensated correctly for the extra work they’ve had to take on with the pandemic,” said Ghidoni. 

If RRC instructors go on strike next year, students’ education could come to a screeching halt. 

Another concern is operating grants because the government is not adjusting them for inflation, said Ghidoni. While hydro and other services get more expensive year after year, grants the government gives to post-secondary institutions are not adjusted to match that increase.

As a result, tuition costs spike. Next year, students can expect to pay an extra $250 compared to the 2020/2021 tuition prices.

But that number is incomparable to what international students have to pay for healthcare. At RRC, it’s $792. At the U of M, it’s almost $1000.

In 2018, the province announced they were no longer allowing international students to be on Manitoba Health plans automatically. 

“They phrased it as saving money,” said Ghidoni. “Realistically, they saved pennies.”

Melissa Ghidoni is Red River College Students’ Association’s vice-president external. She is advocating against tuition increases./GABRIELLE PICHÉ

Since then, students have been advocating for an affordable buy-in option which would enable them to opt into Manitoba Health. That way, they would only have to pay $300 for a year of coverage.

“It’s about time we speak about these important issues,” said Tahbit Dewan, an international student studying business at the U of M. 

When Dewan first came to Manitoba in 2017, his tuition was $18,500. Now, he pays $21,500, and it keeps going up every year. 

“We can only work 20 hours a week,” said Dewan. “For most of us [international students], our family supports us with the tuition fee, and we work here part time to cover our living expenses.”

Healthcare is now a part of those living expenses.

“It’s been a really huge burden for all the international students,” said Dewan.

As the president of the University of Manitoba’s Bangladeshi Student Association, Dewan said he’s seeing students choose to not see a doctor when they’re sick.

“As a community, we had to fundraise or even we had to pay out of our own pockets sometimes to help those students,” said Dewan.  

Ghidoni said the #StudentsSpeakUp campaign was designed to show what students care about.

Students can show their support by signing the petition created by the Manitoba Alliance of Post Secondary Students.