November 21, 2019

On Jan. 17, to the disgust of thousands of students across the province, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative government announced they would be making major changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). The biggest was the all-out elimination of free tuition, which was implemented by Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals in 2014.

This comes as a huge blow to many students who normally wouldn’t have even considered post-secondary education, due to the financial struggles with which they are faced.

In the days following this announcement, students across Ontario voiced their displeasure with the changes and implored Ford to reverse his decision and bring back free tuition for low-income students.

On Friday, Jan. 25, almost 2,000 students rallied at Queen’s Park in downtown Toronto to protest the new changes. Ford, however, hasn’t wavered on his initial decision.

Students from across Ontario are still holding their breath in the hope that some changes will come, but at this point students who were relying on the free tuition grants made available by the previous government are being forced to develop backup plans or even abandoned their plans to continue their education entirely.

A student inquires about their OSAP option at Conestoga’s Welcome Centre, Kitchener, Ont., Feb. 1, 2019.

“I think it’s really unfair that the new government has made this change,” said Sunny Chaudhary, a Conestoga College human resources management student. “In many countries around the world, they are moving in the direction of free education and I think it’s generally had positive results. I know, me, personally, I won’t be able to continue my education if the free tuition grant is eliminated because I just can’t afford it.”

Not only have Ford and the PC party taken away free tuition grants, they have also eliminated the six-month grace period students once had to repay their loans.

“I’m basically expected to start paying back my student loans immediately after I graduate, meaning I’m expected to find a job that pays me well enough to cover my own expenses and repay my loans,” said Samantha Toscani, a second-year University of Guelph psychology student. “I wasn’t offered a lot of grants to begin with and most of my funding was given to me through loans. This was all based on my parents’ income, but what the government doesn’t understand is that my parents income is simply that — their income.”

Toscani believes it is unfair that OSAP evaluations are based on household incomes, because, although her parents made enough money according to OSAP, they could not help her pay for her schooling as they had other expenses.

Such drastic changes will have many students nervous and ready to put a stop to their post-secondary education, simply because they cannot afford it. When the free tuition changes were first announced back in 2016, many students who previously could not afford post-secondary education were excited and the numbers showed when it came time to apply. In 2017, when the new OSAP changes were put into place, nearly 50,000 more students applied for financial aid than the previous year, when free tuition and big grants were not available. This alone shows that the new policy was effective and was helping students who could not previously afford post-secondary education knock down that barrier and gave them an opportunity to study.

The one major flaw in the old OSAP policy was that international students were not eligible to apply for free tuition, but the Liberal government had made a statement promising that this would change and they could eventually be included as well, given the right amount of time. Although the old OSAP system was not perfect, it was well on its way to being so.

Unless the Ford government reverses itself, that opportunity will be lost.

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