Students welcome tuition cut, but worry over OSAP changes
'There's a cloud hanging over any student who might be receiving assistance'
University and college students in Ottawa say they're happy to hear tuition will drop by 10 per cent in September, but worry about changes to loans and grants that could leave them struggling to pay off debt.
Merrilee Fullerton, the MPP for Kanata-Carleton and minister of training, colleges and universities, announced Thursday that the average college student will save $340 per year, and university undergraduates will save between $600 and $1,000 as a result of the tuition cuts.
At the same time, she said the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) will undergo yet another overhaul, citing a recent audit and criticizing the former Liberal government for allowing it to "balloon to the point of fiscal unsustainability."
Today's announcement also effectively eliminates the fully covered tuition put in place by the Liberals for families earning less than $50,000.
The Carleton University Student Union had been advocating for tuition cuts for some time, but said the changes to OSAP turned good news into bad.
"I think it started out on a high but after all the revelations that came after it's kind of a time of limbo for students, there's a cloud hanging over any student who might be receiving assistance," said David Oladejo, president of the student union.
In statements to CBC News, the University of Ottawa and Carleton University said they would be reviewing how the government's changes will affect them.
Meanwhile, Algonquin College said the news of the tuition cut came as a surprise and will create a $9-million hole in its budget.
"We'll have to go back and take a look at projects that we can't start or different operating budgets that we have," said President Cheryl Jensen.
All three schools said their priority with any changes is students.
On the Carleton University campus, reaction to news of the tuition cuts was equally guarded.
"I'd be excited for that, really excited for that. I just wish it was more," said third-year neuroscience student Venance Selemani.
Selemani said he pays about $9,000 a year in tuition, an amount he can't cover with his minimum-wage job at a grocery store. He depends on OSAP to make up the shortfall, and worried the changes to the loan program could jeopardize that source of money.
"It's already a struggle to get. It's a long process," he said.
Michelle Macland, a mother of three children under 10, transfered to Carleton as a mature student for a final year of social work courses.
She said the former Liberal government's OSAP policy allowed her to return to school, and suggested the PC overhaul will make things more difficult to students like her.
"Ford preaches that he's putting money back in the hands of Ontarians, but is he?" she asked.
Macland said she fears the OSAP changes will make it difficult for low-income families to attend college or university and "break the cycle of poverty."