AMS heads to Ottawa to lobby for affordable education, funding for Indigenous students

The AMS travelled to Ottawa last month to lobby the federal government for expanding research opportunities, affordable textbooks and funding for Indigenous students.

For this trip, AMS VP External Cristina Ilnitchi and AMS President Marium Hamid partnered with the Undergraduates of Canadian Research Intensive Universities (UCRU), collectively representing over 240,000 students across Canada.

They lobbied for the reallocation of tuition tax credit, the expansion of undergraduate research opportunities, support for both Indigenous and international student issues, and retention of fair dealing under the Copyright Act.

Lobbying for affordable education

One of the asks the AMS brought to Ottawa was the reallocation of tuition tax credits, specifically so that students from lower-middle income households could benefit from up-front grants.

“On a year-to-year basis, what we see is that families from the highest income quintiles are the ones taking the most advantage of this tuition tax program,” said Ilnitchi at the January 9 AMS Council meeting.

The AMS proposed the funding be allocated towards upfront grants so students from lower-middle income families to get tuition tax credits when they need it the most.

Expanding undergraduate research opportunities

The society also lobbied to expand undergraduate research funding to more areas of study, specifically health sciences, social sciences and the humanities.

Programs like UBC’s Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA) are funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

In addition to increasing funding, the AMS asked for more demographic data in regards to who enters these programs, in order to promote more diversity in the program.

“To really be able to make this a program that more students can access and benefit from is the goal of this ask,” said Ilnitchi.

Supporting Indigenous students

The AMS lobbied for the government to follow through on promises to provide funding for Indigenous students and better engage those students in consultation.

The Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) is a program that provides Indigenous students with upfront grants throughout their post-secondary degree.

In 2017, the government promised $200 million to be added to the PSSSP and to eliminate the two per cent cap to increase funding over the span of two years. With only a year left in the term, only $90 million of the proposed funding has been allocated and the cap has not been removed.

“While it’s absolutely wonderful that Indigenous councils are being included in these consultations and are the ones who are actually distributing the money to the students within their own communities, it’s really important to include the direct beneficiaries of this program,” said Ilnitchi.

Supporting international students

One of the AMS’s asks was to adjust legislation within the Canadian Experience Class (Express Entry).

Currently, skilled labour experience offered through the university, like co-op programs, are not counted towards the years of work needed to become a Canadian permanent resident.

Like her predecessor, Ilnitchi is arguing that this experience be accrued towards PR applications so international students have a fast-track to gaining citizenship.

“This is an opportunity to not only to reward international students as a way to get PR and get into Canada quicker, but at the same time it’s an opportunity for Canada really as well to get skilled workers into the workforce as quickly as possible and get citizens who would contribute actively to this country,” said Ilnitchi.

Retaining fair dealing under the copyright act

“What we’re asking for, short and simple, is to retain education as an exception to the Copyright Act through fair deal,” said Ilnitchi.

Under the Copyright Act, use of copyrighted material for the purposes of education is considered fair dealing and doesn’t infringe the law. But some publishers are looking to change that. The AMS advocated for leaving the exception so that textbooks and other learning materials remain affordable for students.

“To ensure that we keep student’s learning materials at a low cost, this exception is incredibly important, so we propose that we continue to keep education as a part of this exception,” said Ilnitchi.