Windsor

Ont. students rally for more money amid government rollout of new supports

Students across the province are uniting Thursday to rally against rising tuition fees, on the heels of a massive reform to the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

Rallies across the province will focus on localized needs, supports for post-secondary students

Students across Ontario are rallying for free tuition and other supports such as food security and affordable housing. (Marcelo del Pozo/Reuters)

Students across the province are uniting Thursday to rally against rising tuition fees on the heels of a massive reform to the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

Although student groups support the major OSAP overhaul, they say it's not enough to cover the full cost of being educated.

Nour Alideeb, chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario, is helping to coordinate the 'Day of Action' in regions across the province.

Highlights of OSAP changes 2017-2018

  • Students from families with incomes of $50,000 or less will receive free average tuition.
  • Students from families with a combined income up to $175,000 benefit from more grants and loans.
  • In 2018, students who earn less than $35,000/year will not need to repay the loans right away.
  • An OSAP calculator was launched to show students how much they may be eligible to receive (there are many grey areas in the program).

"Tuition fees aren't the only thing bogging down students from accessing a free and accessible post secondary education — it's a number of issues," said Alideeb. "Our day of action isn't going to take a traditional route.

Alideeb said the increased grant opportunities offered by the province are a great push in the right direction, but affordable housing, food security and child care are some of the other barriers faced by students.

'Terribly constructed'

In the 2016 budget the province announced changes to OSAP that included more grants for students coming from lower income families and better tools to directly show the payoff OSAP could provide.

This January, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development touted the program's success, reporting that more than 225,000 full-time college and university students have their average tuition costs covered by grants. But it's unclear if those students would have attended school anyway. So far, there are no statistics to indicate whether the OSAP changes have improved enrolment.

We have really high rates of access to and graduation rates of higher education. You can only do that if you have a system that is working pretty well in terms of affordability and accessibility.- Martin Hicks, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario

"The old OSAP was a very good program but it was terribly constructed in terms of allowing people to understand what they were getting," said Martin Hicks, executive director of data and statistics for the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

The agency is responsible for providing improvement recommendations to the ministry, and Hicks said the OSAP uptake is telling.

"It means to me that the message has gotten through that this program is there, helpful, and will get students what they need."

Tuition Fees 2017-2018

  • 3.7 % – Increase of average tuition fees for full-time students in Ontario.
  • 3.1 % – Increase of average tuition fees for full-time students in Canada.
  • $6,571 – Average undergraduate tuition fee in Canada.

Hicks said that free money won't necessarily encourage people to enrol in post-secondary education — there are other factors such as whether family members have attended.

But even before the OSAP changes, Hicks said Ontario was doing well when it comes to post-secondary education.

"We have really high rates of access to and graduation rates of higher education. You can only do that if you have a system that is working pretty well in terms of affordability and accessibility."

What students want

Rallies planned at universities and colleges will highlight some of the local needs for students there, said Alideeb.

The OSAP changes — it's a great step in the right direction. We know that it works why not do it for more people.- Nour Alideeb, Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario

Schools in northern parts of the province like Lakehead Orillia and Thunder Bay are advocating for food security while schools in the Greater Toronto Area are pushing for affordable and accessible transit options for students.

"Because we're taking such a local approach it's really up to administrations to help with this advocacy," said Alideeb, explaining that community outreach is needed to address some of these issues.

Nour Alideeb is the chairperson of the Canadian federation of Students in Ontario. (CBC)

The students federation is also pushing for more aid to part-time and international students, and those who have higher tuition costs in professional programs like law or medicine.

"The OSAP changes — it's a great step in the right direction. We know that it works why not do it for more people," said Alideeb.

About the Author

Kaitie Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Kaitie Fraser is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email Kaitie.Fraser@cbc.ca