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In another cool move by the Ford government, the minister of education announced last week that the changes made to OSAP funding announced by the Liberal government in 2017 will be scrapped, effective in the 2019-2020 school year. While grants will still be available for low-income students, gone are the (short-lived) days of free tuition. The government of Ontario claims that the reform is in students’ best interest, proudly boasting a 10 per cent tuition cut, but many students aren’t buying it. Three protests have already taken place on Queen’s Park. Let’s take a look a look at what is changing, and what it all means.

Tuition rates are being lowered by 10 per cent and frozen for the 2020-2021 school year.

What this means:

  • Students looking to go to college will see a tuition reduction of approximately $340 annually.
  • Undergraduate arts & sciences students will see a tuition reduction of approximately $660 annually.
  • Professional and Graduate students will see a tuition reduction of $1,000 or more.

What this really means:

  • Universities worry that this will result in the loss of millions of dollars in revenue, which could damage the quality of our education and the classroom experience.

  • The education minister insists that a “10 per cent reduction in tuition is not a 10 per cent reduction in post-secondary education spending, and the cut actually translates into a 2-4 per cent percent decrease in university and college revenue”.

  • According to statistics put out in a financial report by CAUBO (Canadian Association of University Business Officers), tuition fees accounted for over $5.7 billion in income for all universities in Ontario in 2017. 2 per cent of $5.7 billion is $114 million.

No more “free tuition."  

What this means:

  • Prior to the reform, OSAP applicants were offered funding that was part loan, part grant. In many cases, the grant portion was sufficient to cover tuition costs, while the loan portion was intended to cover living expenses. This portion was optional.

  • With the reform, all students, regardless of income, will have to accept a loan portion.

  • Students with a family income of $140,000 will not receive a grant portion at all.

  • Students with a family income of $50,000 will have to accept a minimum 10 per cent loan.

  • 83 per cent of grants will be given to students with a family income of $50,000.

What this really means:

  • The average monthly cost of living in Toronto for a student is $879. The average rent in Toronto is $1,600. Tuition in Ontario is the highest in Canada ($9,000 vs. the national average of $3,400). So roughly, a student living in Toronto will need to come up with $3,229 monthly to afford shelter, education and general living costs. Loans will have to account for a lot of this.

  • Low-income students are unlikely to be able to pay back loans in a timely manner. Those who wish to further their education will now be forced into debt.

  • Only 17 per cent of grants will be available for students who fall within a family income range of $50,000 to $140,000. The median Toronto household income in 2017 was $72,830.

The new framework now requires universities to give students an “opt-out” option for “non-essential” fees.

What this means:

  • Any fees for services that are deemed “non-essential” will no longer require mandatory payment. This includes fees for services such as student clubs and student newspapers and publications.

  • Universities may be allowed some say in what constitutes an “essential” service, but it is still unclear if things like athletics, food banks, sexual violence support services and more are at risk of running at a lower capacity.

What this really means:

  • Regardless of the fact that student referendums are regularly held to decide which services should be included in tuition fees, the government has decided that the choice will now be made at the individual level.

  • This means overall, there will be less funding for students to organize and share a collective voice. Without funding for student unions and associations, we could lose our power to fight for student rights.

  • By limiting funding for student-run press, we also lose our ability to report and share information about student news, campus concerns and our ability to foster community.

  • Students are also at risk of losing resources to help with issues like Indigenous associations, food insecurity, sexual violence support and education, access to athletics, and day care.

With Ford’s changes, students will no longer benefit from a six-month interest-free grace period on loan payback.

What this means:

  • As soon as students graduate, they will begin incurring interest on their loans.

  • The minister of education suggests that students look into financial planning aids to help manage this issue.

What this really means:

  • We need to find jobs immediately after graduating (and probably before graduating) in order to manage our financial situation post-grad. Otherwise, interest will build up and paying off our student debt may be a long and unrealistic haul.

After Monday’s march on Queen’s Park, some new information has come to light. Data from the CBC shows that at Ryerson, 42 per cent of full-time students benefited from free tuition in 2017-2018. With the reform, nearly half of our student body is at risk of not being able to continue their studies. Furthermore, across Ontario 234,000 students benefited from grants: 40 per cent of full-time enrolment, excluding international students.

Akash Kumar, a third-year Ryerson business management student who attended one of the three protests at Queen's park sat down to speak with me about the implications of Ford’s OSAP reform. Akash has been using OSAP for the past four years. While he admitted that he is likely more privileged than other students, going to school without OSAP would have been an “impossibility.” Akash’s perspective is much like that of many Ryerson students who are fighting back against the changes, one of solidarity: “a lot of people don’t have that privilege [of some family support, the opportunity to live at home] - which is why these changes concern me. It’s not just about me, it’s about other people that are not in a well-off position."

When asked about his thoughts on what the next school year will look like with the new OSAP framework, Akash voiced his concern about having to decrease his course load and increase his workload - delaying his graduation. This may be a reality that many of us will have to face: “I’m fortunate to have these changes come with only one year of school remaining, so I’m not too concerned for myself but I am concerned for other students that may not be able to access OSAP in the coming years - it’s going to change a lot for everybody.”

Akash stressed that access to education is vital, especially for poorer or marginalized communities. “In some cases it’s the only way that you can gain access to upward mobility... the policy is really short sighted. Cutting funding for students and thereby decreasing the demand for education will in the long run just hurt the province."

This isn’t a partisan issue. Those who are left-leaning may have concerns that limited accessibility to education is a tool to uphold the status quo - reserving degrees for the rich, white and privileged. But with a decrease in demand for education and a decrease in accessibility to education, we could see a greater population in need of government support down the line, something that fiscally conservative voters may not be thrilled about.

So what’s next? What can we do as students? If protests aren’t your thing, you may want to consider calling your MPP and voicing your concerns. Democracy is run on the principle of a government for the people and if we exercise our right to be heard and do so in numbers, there is a possibility that we can make change. Voting in the upcoming federal election is crucial. Take advantage of the resources available online to learn about the voting process, understand the different party platforms, and increase your civic literacy.

In the words of the first female Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto: “The best revenge is democracy."

Amanda Connell

Toronto MU '20

Lifetime Sociology major at Ryerson. Firm belief in unicorns, probiotics and dismantling the patriarchy. Nasty woman, bartender, yogi, and all around lover of life. Will write for travel.
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