Assistant News Editor
The 35th Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) General Assembly was held on campus last weekend, March 9-11. Hosted by the McMaster Students Union (MSU) and the McMaster Association of Part-Time Students (MAPS), the main topics of discussion included student health, student mobility, mature students and the beginning organizational steps for the next Assembly, to be held in the fall of this year.
On the subject of student health, the main concerns brought up at the assembly were “campus health services, mental health, accessibility services, first-year transition, international students, health promotion, racialized, aboriginal and LGBTQ students,” according to Alicia Ali, the MSU’s VP Education.
Some of the concerns brought up in relation to these issues include the “inadequate staff-to-student ratios at counseling centres, resulting in long wait times,” which often results to students not gaining access to services that they need at the time that they need them. Also, “disability,” as the government currently defines it, creates difficulties for students with mental illness to access the same resources that are available to students with physical disabilities, such as financial assistance or academic accommodations to meet their specific needs.
To solve these issues, it was suggested for the government to collaborate “with institutions, student organizations and other sector stakeholders [to] create a comprehensive strategy for enhanced health service provision on post-secondary campuses,” said Ali. A minimum standard for counseling should be enforced, and specific funds need to be allocated to maintaining this standard throughout the province. The definition of “disability,” as outlined by the government, also needs to be changed in order to more fully encompass mental health issues.
Another issue of importance is students’ ability to change post-secondary institutions once they have begun their studies. The greatest problem is the process of transferring credits, which is currently a difficult process. More transparency and predictability in this process is demanded, and “similar undergraduate courses at the first and second year level at Ontario’s universities should have enough equivalent content and learning outcomes to facilitate transfer,” said Ali.
Solutions proposed were the full recognition of credits successfully completed in first and second year courses at Ontario universities, and the use of government funds for universities to hire specific academic advisors who can “guide students throughout the transfer system, as well as facilitate orientation for incoming students,” noted Ali.
The final area of coverage at the general assembly was the issue of mature students, and the need to recognize the needs of those who may be entering university later in life, and their potential need for financial aid.
Ali noted that “the Ontario Tuition Grant excludes part-time learners that are mature, regardless of their financial need. Mature, part-time students are not eligible for most provincial financial assistance programs.”
Equality for financial aid between mature students and those coming to university directly out of high school, or shortly after, was one recommendation brought up at the assembly, as well as the further development of the Ontario Online Institute to provide mature students with more flexible learning opportunities. Suggestions were also made to allow part-time students to become eligible for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
Ali noted that the three points of interest for the fall OUSA General Assembly will be “northern and rural students, students with disabilities and student financial aid.”