PEI

UPEI student union not sure Ontario Student Grant program can work

Late last month the Ontario government brought down a budget with a huge increase in support for post-secondary students that could see many get their schooling paid almost entirely, but the head of the UPEI student union isn't sure the model could work on the Island.

'Another area that we could focus on is looking at parental contributions'

Dana Kenny, president and CEO of the UPEI student union, says many students have been using the path for years. (CBC)

The head of UPEI's student union isn't sure the new Ontario model, which will allow many students to attend university virtually tuition-free, will work on P.E.I. 

Late last month, the Ontario government brought down a budget with a huge increase in support for post-secondary students. Under the new Ontario Student Grant, it's estimated that around 90 per cent of low-income students will get almost all their tuition paid if they qualify.

 'Just because my parents may make an exorbitant amount of money in the eyes of the government and they should be contributing towards my university education, doesn't necessarily mean they will.— Dana Kenny, UPEI Student Union president 

"Like most student leaders across the country my jaw kind of dropped and hit the counter," said UPEI student union president Dana Kenny of hearing the news. 

"It was unexpected, and we try to keep tabs on what's going on in other provinces, and this was not something we had foreseen."

The Denmark example

What Ontario is doing is great, Kenny said, but he's not sure it's the solution to students debt problems. He points out some examples of free post-secondary education not working well.

"Denmark, for example, right now has had free education for their citizens and right now they're noticing that hey maybe this wasn't the best decision it doesn't seem to be as sustainable as we thought it may be," he said.

"So free education — I don't know if it's necessarily the answer, I'm not the expert."

The student union first wants to talk to students to see if that's something they would want, Kenny said.

"Whenever we do take a policy stance at the student union, we always make sure that our students are on board with us. We don't just develop them and start advocating," he said.

The student union has planned a gathering for March 31, so students can express concerns and ideas they'd like them to consider, including the Ontario Student Grant.

Parental contributions

Island students have made gains, Kenny said, with recent changes the province has made to student grants and an increase to the bi-weekly maximums. They are also lobbying for other changes such as removing parental contributions and multi-year funding for the university.

"Another area that we could focus on is looking at parental contributions," he said. 

"Recognizing the fact that just because my parents may make an exorbitant amount of money in the eyes of the government and they should be contributing towards my university education, doesn't necessarily mean they will. That could be for a variety of reasons," Kenny said.

With files form Natalia Goodwin

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