Ontario post-secondary students marched in Toronto to protest recent changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program.
Students and allies met on Jan. 25 at Yonge-Dundas Square before marching to Queen’s Park, where hundreds protested in front of the Ontario Legislative Building.
Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Merrilee Fullerton, announced changes to OSAP on Jan. 17. One of them will be a 10 per cent decrease in tuition fees for Ontario college and university students.
“It’s something that’s really beneficial for people that already have the money to pay for their tuition,” said Suzany Manimaran, a low-income student at the rally.
“It just doesn’t add up for me.”
Many are criticizing another change: the elimination of free tuition for low-income students. Under the Liberal OSAP plan, it was possible for low-income students to receive enough non-repayable grants to cover their tuition costs.
Now they will get a mix of grants and loans.
“I have free tuition. That is something that I rely on, because without it, I’d be in a lot of debt,” Manimaran said. “Without a heavier portion of grants, I don’t think many of us [low-income students] would be able to access the education that we have right now.”
Under the new plan, the share of OSAP funds going toward low-income families will increase from 69 per cent to 72 per cent, according to Fullerton. The share of grants going to low-income families will increase from 76 per cent to 82 per cent.
At Queen’s Park, marchers heard speeches from student allies Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter and Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
“I want you to know that this government has to listen to its students,” Hunter said, speaking to protesters. “When you guys gather, when you use your voice, when you write to your MPPs across the province… when you make the cabinet uncomfortable, they have to listen… they cannot ignore you.”
Joining with hundreds of students who want a fair chance at education. Students in this province deserve better ! These OSAP changes mean less people will be able to access education in Ontario. #saveosap #onpoli #ScarbTO pic.twitter.com/t2DTpJzi0l
— Mitzie Hunter (@MitzieHunter) January 25, 2019
Another OSAP change being criticized is the elimination of the six-month grace period before the provincial portion of student loans starts accumulating interest. Student loans will now begin accumulating interest immediately after graduation.
At the rally, the NDP’s Horwath called for the end of charging interest on student loans altogether. “Shame on any government that earns interest on the backs of students,” she said.
A 10 per cent decrease in tuition will result in a two to four per cent decrease in revenue for colleges and universities. The province will not replace the loss in funding.
Under the previous OSAP rules, families earning a maximum of $175,000 could qualify for some OSAP funding. Under the changes, the maximum has been reduced to $140,000 a year.
“Under the current program, students from higher income families were receiving grants for just applying, not because they had a demonstrated need,” Fullerton said in a Jan. 17 news conference. “We will take action to ensure the program fulfills its intended purpose: to provide support to students and families in the greatest financial need. All students matter, and their education matters. We need OSAP to be available to those who need it the most.”