The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations has just returned from an exciting week of policy debates and discussions about how Canada can improve and reform our post-secondary education system. It is always fascinating to see how an organization’s policy-making process is created and how it evolves into a final product. Youth organizations’ processes are particularly interesting, as they tend to steer away from mainstream mechanisms of policy development.
A few years ago, CASA members developed a policy framework as a way to set its yearly advocacy priorities, and to help in the facilitation of difficult political discussions. The framework is a creative and collaborative process that aims to have student leaders determine specific actions, policy initiatives, or demands for the government to make the appropriate legislative or regulatory change. These actions or initiatives are eventually broken down into 4 quadrants depending on research availability and political opportunity.
CASA’s policy framework, which is set forth at the yearly policy and strategy conference, relies heavily on its members’ participation. First, student-members share and rally support for their policy ideas as they brainstorm at the ‘transitions’ conference. Once those ideas are refined through briefing and research notes by CASA staff, delegates discuss those issues during a set of roundtable discussions, and are called upon to select CASA’s priorities for the year through a priority ballot. The policy and opportunity assessment sessions then allow students to strategize and form the policy development framework diamond. They finally vote, during the conference’s closing plenary, to accept or reject the diamond. The work that they put into the policy development framework does not end here. Throughout the year, a large number of candidates sit on various committees and actively work toward the advancement of our policy goals. This year’s committees include the policy committee, the ad-hoc apprenticeship committee, the graduate council, the ad-hoc committee on tax credit and grants, the national advocacy team, the by-law committee, and the board of directors. Through the work they accomplish in the committees, students bring the policy development framework to life.
The policy development process has been under refinement since 2009, and is still undergoing changes. The nature of working with young motivated leaders is that there will always be a need for a degree of flexibility within the policy development framework, allowing for the organization to grow with students.
At the conference, a total of 24 ‘initial asks’ were voted in, and incorporated into, the policy diamond. A wide-range of issues were thus brought to the table, including:
- The expansion of the Canada Summer Jobs program
- Open access to research publications
- Lowering student loan interests
- The admission of parallel importation of books in book importation regulations
- Tri-agency (Granting Councils) funding
- The removal of GST and Federal HST from textbooks
Other important issues that students voiced through the process included matters pertaining to mental health, First Nations and Inuit students’ postsecondary support program, intellectual property ownership, permanent residency procurement, the Canadian Student Loan Program’s asset assessment, as well as the facilitation of students’ participation in political elections.
We will see where the policy diamond takes us as our work advances and political events unfold. No end exists to the issues facing students. CASA will continue to push for increased investments on behalf of government and encourage all decision makers, regardless of political stripes, to push for access and excellence in post-secondary education across Canada.