Zach Churchill nears end with CASA

Tri-County Vanguard - - EDITORIAL - By Michael Gor­man

Zach Churchill is pre­par­ing to ap­pear on MTV.

But while Churchill, a Yar­mouth na­tive, might have once dreamed about play­ing on the mu­sic chan­nel with his high school band Oden, his ap­pear­ance — which took place fol­low­ing this in­ter­view last week — ac­tu­ally has noth­ing to do with mu­sic.

In his fi­nal month of a two-year term as the na­tional di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Al­liance of Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tions (CASA), Churchill is con­tin­u­ing to do the same thing he did when he first took the job and be­fore that for two years as pres­i­dent of the Saint Mary’s stu­dent union — pro­mot­ing ac­ces­si­ble post-secondary ed­u­ca­tion for every­one in Canada, lob­by­ing that it is funded prop­erly and pro­mot­ing poli­cies per­tain­ing to ed­u­ca­tion that make sense.

Re­flect­ing on his time with CASA, Churchill says it’s been ful­fill­ing and he’s pleased with the progress, al­though he notes it tends to be in­cre­men­tal.

“I’ve been able to work in a sec­tor that I re­ally en­joy,” he said last week from Toronto. “I don’t think there’s too many jobs out there that you get to re­ally work on is­sues that you be­lieve in, that you’re pas­sion­ate about. So I’m re­ally glad I had the op­por­tu­nity to do this for a cou­ple of years.”

Dur­ing his time in of­fice Churchill says he is most proud of help­ing to se­cure $2 bil­lion in fed­eral fund­ing to­wards de­ferred main­te­nance for Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties. And while such an area might not be the first thing peo­ple think of when they dis­cuss the is­sue of fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion, Churchill says the money ul­ti­mately means fewer costs for stu­dents to shoul­der.

This is part of the chal­lenge of per­cep- tion, he says, adding that peo­ple are beginning to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of the is­sues and chal­lenges sur­round­ing post-secondary ed­u­ca­tion.

One of the big­gest ar­gu­ments Churchill makes for the need for across-the­board ac­cess and fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion is an eco­nomic one, and the im­pact it will have on the fu­ture of the coun­try. Seventy per cent of the new jobs cre­ated in Canada re­quire some form of post­sec­ondary train­ing while only 42 per cent of the stu­dent-aged pop­u­la­tion is re­ceiv­ing such train­ing. The num­bers are even lower when con­sid­er­ing young peo­ple from low in­come, abo­rig­i­nal or ru­ral back­grounds.

“ We’re re­ally not in a po­si­tion now as a coun­try to al­low any­body to fall be­hind any­more,” he says. “And it’s not just for their sakes; it’s for the sakes of all of us. I think peo­ple are start­ing to un­der­stand that.”

But it’s not just about money, and Churchill is the first to ad­mit that. Re­cently he and other mem­bers of CASA met with the leaders of the five ma­jor Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the span of 30 hours. What they quickly learned, says Churchill, was that, while stu­dents and stu­dent leaders have a firm grasp on the chal­lenges and is­sues fac­ing stu­dents when it comes to post-secondary ed­u­ca­tion, many politi­cians need to be brought up to speed. This makes ed­u­ca­tion a ma­jor part of Churchill’s role with CASA.

One of the main ob­jec­tives of that ed­u­ca­tion process is to show gov­ern­ment that much change can hap­pen even without spending a lot of money but rather by fo­cus­ing on leg­is­la­tion and poli­cies that make things more ef­fi­cient and stu­dent­friendly.

Zach Churchill

Con­tin­ued on page 13

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