The provincial government recently announced their 2021 budget, Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy. This budget focuses on health, safety, and overall livelihood as Ontario recovers from the pandemic. While the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) supports the investments the government is making in health care, infrastructure, and the economy, we are disappointed that the needs of students were not prioritized in this budget.
The province highlights the key role that post-secondary education and students will play in economic recovery, but there is a clear lack of targeted investment and support in this area. As in our budget submission, the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) will continue to call on the provincial government to fund student financial aid, quality of education, equity on campus, and students in our community as we know the impact our community will play as Ontario recovers from the pandemic, and beyond.
We continue to seek the government’s investment in students, as our concerns around quality of education and student financial aid were not addressed:
Students’ Precarious Financial Situation
At the beginning of the pandemic, 70% of students expressed concerns about their financial situation. Such concerns have persisted as unemployment rates rose through 2020. However, instead of investments in student financial aid, we saw increased cuts. This announcement does not address the financial burden placed on many students, who are unable to take on high levels of debt.
Changes to OSAP
The budget included an announcement previously made on March 18 that the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) would be extended to include micro-credentials. While extending eligibility to include more learners is great, it does not address the needs we laid out in the asks OUSA put forward to improve OSAP following the drastic cuts made by this government in 2019. The announced enhancements to OSAP mentioned in this budget do not benefit the urgent needs of university students who currently depend on OSAP.
We highlighted our ask for a funded extension of the current tuition freeze (set to end later this year). The government still has not indicated if the tuition freeze will continue but we do know from this budget the government will not be increasing funding to universities to support this. Without increases in funding, the burden will be put back on students through cuts that impact the quality of our education and increases in international tuition. In other words, while the government has been providing essential financial relief to businesses and other organizations impacted by COVID-19, they are not adequately supporting publicly-funded post-secondary institutions. Instead, that burden is being placed on students, without corresponding increases in student financial aid. This is a complex topic, if you’d like to learn more, check out this article or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat!
In summary, WUSA will continue to advocate for government investment in post-secondary education and support for students. In the aftermath of the pandemic, young people are going to endure the most significant financial challenges. The government’s failure to invest in students at this critical time demonstrates a lack of support for a vulnerable population and an unwillingness to invest in the economic success of the next generation. To combat these challenges WUSA implores the provincial government to implement OUSA’s OSAP recommendations and implement a funded extension to the tuition freeze.