Taking a stand against OSAP cuts

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Erin Kuepfer
Communications Assistant
Thu, 09/19/2019 - 13:15

It feels like yesterday that the Ontario Government announced dramatic changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). But it wasn’t yesterday. Since January, hundreds of thousands of students across Ontario have been feeling the pressure of how to fund their education under a restricted government-assistance program. For anyone who is unfamiliar with OSAP, or for those who need a refresher, this is what that means: 

  • Elimination of interest free “6 Month Grace Period” after graduation 

  • Elimination of free tuition for low income students and decreased amount of OSAP received 

  • Change in ratio of grants to loans, with a higher focus on the latter

  • Decrease in amounts of both loans and grants 

  • "Mature student” status increased to six years out of high school, from four 
    [This means your parents income will determine your OSAP eligibility and funding for longer, which could lower the amount you receive if they are considered high income]

In plain terms: less financial aid for students who need it to attend post-secondary, and no more interest-free grace period from the provincial government in those six months after graduation. UWaterloo students are already feeling the effects of these changes. 

“The province's OSAP cuts mean more debt and stress for students, especially for those considered to be low-income,” says second-year Environment, Resources and Sustainability student Jagmit Janda. “Ontario students already pay the highest tuition rates in the country, and now universities are losing funding for things like extra-curricular activities, mental health services, and campus newspapers, because of the choice to now opt-out of some student fees. It’s just tough to be a student right now.”  

According to the Ontario Government, 10% off general tuition is the equivalent of the cuts being made. However, most students can agree that an overall tuition reduction does not compensate for the huge hits to grant and loan support. Many of the students in the most financial need will lose more in OSAP funding than they will gain from these tuition cuts.

There’s power in numbers 

This province-wide campaign began earlier in September with a press release [external link] to the media, announcing its launch. OUSA hopes to make it impossible for provincial leaders to ignore the effects these OSAP changes are having on students.  The OSAP campaign features a stark letter [external link] written to Ross Romano, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, to get the attention of the government. The letter addresses how OSAP cuts do nothing but intensify the financial struggles burdened by hardworking students day-to-day. 

“If every student added their story to this campaign, we would have over 150,000 letters for local MPPs, showing that these OSAP cuts affect students across Ontario, from every riding.”  

Our very own Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) Vice President of Education, Matthew Gerrits, represents the UW undergraduate student body with a seat on the OUSA Steering Committee [external link]. Together with the committee, he helped bring the OSAP campaign to fruition, speaking to the effects of these changes on UWaterloo students. “Advocating together makes us stronger,” says Gerrits. “If every student added their story to this campaign, we would have over 150,000 letters for local MPPs, showing that these OSAP cuts affect students across Ontario, from every riding.”  

Janda voices similar advice to students: “Knowledge should be a right, not a privilege for the rich and wealthy. When the next provincial election comes around, vote for politicians who value and prioritize affordable education. We need a government that cares about young people.” 

Standing together 

OUSA letters being mailedStudents represent an enormous voting demographic and exercising that right is an important way to ensure your voices are heard. In this case, there’s also another. Join the OUSA/OSAP letter campaign [external link] and strengthen our voice by adding yours. Follow the link, fill out your info, and share your story. OUSA will then send these letters on your behalf to the provincial government, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities and your local MPPs. 

Students are feeling and facing the effects of these changes every day. Every day they go to work rather than school, when they’re only one year away from graduation and had to postpone this semester (possibly even this entire year of study). Every day they miss a family gathering because they’re having to work late at one of their two part-time jobs. Every day they accumulate interest on their provincial loan immediately after they graduate, before they’ve even landed their first full-time position. We know this is the everyday reality of our students. Join us in making sure the provincial government knows it too.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) represents the interests of approximately 150,000 professional and undergraduate, full-time and part-time university students at eight student associations across Ontario. Their vision is for an accessible, affordable, accountable and high quality post-secondary education in Ontario.