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Separate and unequal

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The new two-tiered OSAP loan program undermines fair access to higher education. It systematically directs public resources and services for the exclusive benefit of students from private post-secondary institutions at the expense of students attending public universities and colleges. In this new two-tiered OSAP program, students attending public universities and colleges receive separate, and in my view, inferior services to OSAP loan students attending private institutions. For the last four days, I have been calling the toll-free enquiry hotline (1-888-815-4514) for OSAP students in public institutions, without success. The number has been consistently out of service.

In order to see whether OSAP students from private post-secondary institutions were having as lousy a service as those of us in the public sector, I dialed the toll-free number (1-866-587-7452) set up for the exclusive use of students from private post-secondary institutions. I got through with no difficulties. I asked the OSAP representative who answered the telephone why I got through so easily to their toll-free number, while the number set up to service OSAP students in public universities and colleges had been out of services for days? She indicated that she was aware of the problem, but that her responsibility was to serve the needs of OSAP students from private institutions and not those in public institutions.

We need to pay critical attention to the political agenda behind the new two tiered-OSAP loan program. Through this seemingly “separate but equal” student loan program, a situation is created whereby public resources and services can be and have been systematically diverted to the educational needs of exclusive groups and institutions. This practice has broader political, cultural and economic implications for Ontarians’ access to equitable publicly-funded higher education. The Conservative government has made concerted efforts to systematically divert public resources and services for the exclusive educational benefits of private individuals, groups and institutions, to the detriment of the educational needs of the majority of Ontarians.

The impending plan to eliminate ESL programs (English as a Second Language, designed to aid immigrant students) and to close swimming pools in public schools, while at the same time giving millions of dollars of public money to privately-run schools, shows how the Conservative government’s reactionary education policy is undermining access to fair education.

What is at issue is whether or not we are willing to accept unjust and unfair allocation of our commonly-owned public resources to serve the exclusive educational needs of specific groups and institutions.