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OSAP changes threaten equitable access to education

Ford’s policies exacerbate the burden placed on students who rely on financial aid

OSAP changes threaten equitable access to education

In mid-June, the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) became the top trending topic on Twitter in the GTA. Many students shared how the changes that the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario announced in January will affect their ability to afford higher education. Notable changes include a decrease in grant-to-loan ratios, changes to the definition for independent students who are eligible for more support, and scrapping the free tuition program for low-income students. Some Twitter users posted screenshots comparing past OSAP payments to their current assessments to emphasize the substantial decrease.

Hundreds of thousands of students depend on OSAP to fully or partially cover their tuition, easing the financial burden of higher education. These changes may even determine whether students can afford to attend college or university at all. 

Students should not have to live in fear and trepidation while trying to better their lives. These changes intensify the economic barriers that can prevent promising students from accessing opportunities equal to those of their wealthier peers. Although many students work while going to school, a job may not be able to fully fill the gaping hole left by these cuts.  

Some students claimed that their final OSAP loan and grant recalculation differed drastically from their initial estimations they received in the beginning of the summer. Twitter user @natashambeckett wrote that her estimate was “8k less than [OSAP] originally totalled,” and that she didn’t “have that kind of money” to pay the difference — especially so late in the summer.

For me, the estimate did not change much: I am receiving approximately $1,600 less than last year. A glance at my own funding reveals that approximately 75 per cent of my OSAP funding would be through loans. My previous applications indicate that my funding has always been around 60 per cent loans, with the remaining 40 per cent coming in the form of grants. 

This kind of change from previous years will cause students to accumulate more debt once they leave their higher education institutions. Nonetheless, the most significant change is the overall funding that OSAP will provide. 

As a full-time student in a deregulated program, my yearly tuition is roughly $13,000. While in previous years OSAP covered about 80 per cent of my tuition, it is now estimated to only cover 65 per cent. With my last year only a month away, there is little opportunity for me to make up for this cost. This is the difficult situation that many students now face.

Ontario already has the highest tuition rates in Canada. Additionally, the loans-to-grants ratio has increased, with “a minimum of 50 per cent” of OSAP payment being through loans. If the steep tuition costs did not discourage many potential postsecondary students from enrolling in Ontario’s universities before, the inability of the province’s student aid program to cover a considerable amount of postsecondary education expenses may now.

These cuts potentially dissuade many students from pursuing higher education, especially with additional changes to funding eligibility,  such as a new definition of “independent” student. In calculations, students who have “been out of high school for six years or less, rather than four years” will have their parents’ income considered in the assessments. This means that students entering graduate programs are expected to rely on their parents’ support, preventing a considerable number of students from receiving aid that they expected.

It is also important to consider that students from affluent households already have a greater chance of obtaining a college or university education. Higher education is a known pathway to high-income jobs, and yet these OSAP changes threaten to further deepen the wealth inequality between low- and high-income students and serve as a barrier between economically disadvantaged students and tertiary education.

According to Statistics Canada, 81.4 per cent of graduates aged 25–64 were “in fields important for building a strong social infrastructure.” A more educated population creates a stronger, more fulfilled society, so placing financial barriers on students’ ability to learn is a poor long-term investment.

Students should not have to worry about financing their education. Education should not be something restricted to and exclusively for the wealthy. Currently, a bachelor’s degree is a must for entry into most mid-to-high income industry positions. Postsecondary education has become less of an asset and more of a requirement, meaning access to higher education is a necessity. 

With economic barriers to education, fewer students will enrol in postsecondary studies. Research shows that people with more education lead healthier and happier lives. When people are given access to postsecondary education, they are given the opportunity to forge better lives for themselves and ultimately create a more productive society.

Belicia Chevolleau is a fourth-year Communication, Culture, Information & Technology student at UTM.

Opinion: Ontario budget’s postsecondary education provisions like painting lipstick on a pig

Despite ostensibly reducing fees, changes to OSAP, tuition will cost students, the economy more in the long run

Opinion: Ontario budget’s postsecondary education provisions like painting lipstick on a pig

As promised, the 2019 provincial budget makes sweeping changes to the postsecondary education system as we know it, decreasing funding in 2019–2020 by $700 million compared to last year in the name of “efficiency” and “sustainability” while claiming to better prepare students for the workforce. In reality, these cuts, primarily through changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the availability of grants for the middle class, hinder the accessibility of postsecondary institutions for lower income families and the middle class, impacting the future of the economy as new graduates are burdened by more debt.

OSAP cuts and grants hang in the balance 

Before the formal release of the budget, the Ford government planned to cut funds available for grants by as much as 50 per cent in favour of more loans. This would impact middle-class students the most, as the budget commits to ensuring that 82 per cent of available grants are received by families with incomes of $50,000 or less, up from 76 per cent in the previous budget. However, the budget neglects to specify how much the total funds will be decreased — if they end up being reduced it at all — as previously stated.

The budget fails to disclose many policies previously purported, such as the elimination of guaranteed free tuition for low-income families and extending the amount of time parents are expected to financially contribute from four years after high school to six when applying for OSAP. We don’t know if these policies have been axed due to public outcry, or if the Ford government lost its nerve and is simply postponing the announcement.

Many students are able to fund a significant portion or even the entirety of their tuition through grants, and that is the only way they can afford it, regardless of the tax bracket their parents fall into. What will happen to these students? For starters, they will be forced to take out and pay back more loans. The cost of these loans will be inflated due to the elimination of the interest-free grace period for the Ontario portion of these loans — which gave graduates a six-month window to gain employment before running up interest on their loans. As if students in their final year didn’t already have enough to stress about, now they must frantically job hunt while cramming for exams and writing papers.

The interest-free grace period gave students a crucial cushion post-graduation, allowing them time to find a job before feeling the full weight of crippling financial debt. Its elimination will have an impact on the future of the provincial economy, as young adults moving into the workforce will have less disposable income to stimulate local economies. As baby boomers continue to age and exit the workforce, young people are poised to become the backbone of the provincial economy. It is unwise to burden them with financial debt straight out of the gate, before they have a chance to realize their full potential as contributors to the economy by entering the workforce.

This lecture brought to you by Coca-Cola?  

In a thinly veiled attempt at appeasing angry students, a 10 per cent tuition cut has been slapped on top of these austerity measures, painting lipstick on the proverbial pig that is this education budget. While this seems beneficial to students on the surface, without a means of compensating institutions for their revenue losses, this serves to further destabilize the postsecondary education system as we know it. The only institutions that will have help adjusting to the tuition rate reduction are “smaller Northern institutions” that will have access to an unidentified fund, amounting to an undisclosed amount, at an unknown rate.

In reality, the people who stand to benefit the most from the tuition rate reduction are those who can already afford it, because students who can’t afford it would have been able to offset the cost through grants, bursaries, and the free tuition program. With the aforementioned changes to OSAP, the amount of people eligible for financial aid programs has drastically been reduced, forcing students into the debt cycle immediately after graduation.

Postsecondary institutions will have to adapt to an approximate cumulative of $440 million in lost revenue, which will have a significant impact on the resources and services available to students on campus. At U of T, these measures have wiped $88 million from its 2019–2020 operating budget. According to the budget, the average student enrolled in an arts and science degree will save what amounts to $55 a month in tuition costs. In return, postsecondary institutions may rely on cutting back services and resources to students, such as closing libraries earlier or reducing writing centre hours. Depending on the individual, the savings may not feel worth it.

Regardless, postsecondary institutions will be forced to make up for this lack somehow. It is not unrealistic to presume they may choose do so through a dystopian amount of corporate sponsorships. Before we know it, lectures may soon be ‘brought to you by Coca-Cola’ on chalkboards plastered with bold logos and quippy slogans.

Prioritizing the wants of the rich

In another meagre attempt at appeasing students, the 2019 budget states students will be able to pick and choose which “non-essential” incidental fees they want to pay for. These “non-essential” fees serve to fund important student organizations and associations, such as newspapers, student unions, and clubs supporting minority groups. It is perturbing to realize how this move systematically defunds the very groups who are most likely to try and hold the government accountable for its actions and ideologies.

The degradation of the education budget is an example of the Ford government showing its true values; prioritizing the wants of the rich at the expense of the needs of the working class. Instead of balancing the budget within his first term as originally promised, Doug Ford is performing a precarious balancing act between attempting to appease students with superficial policies, while taking away key financial resources which will help them in the long run. He has underestimated and insulted the intellect of postsecondary students with red herring policies meant to distract us from the immediate and longer term consequences of these misdirected austerity measures.

As province-wide campus protests have shown, we will not take the attacks lying down.

Federal government lowers student loan interest, establishes free grace period

Additional job opportunities, mental health leave support among other changes in 2019 federal budget

Federal government lowers student loan interest, establishes free grace period

The federal government is set to lower student loan interest rates and make the six-month grace period following graduation interest-free, according to its 2019 budget released March 19. The budget also provides financial support for students who are on parental leave, increases job placement availabilities for students, and provides additional funds to attract more foreign students to Canada.

Student loans

The federal government has reduced the floating student loan interest rate to the prime rate, from its current 2.5 per cent over prime. The fixed interest rate will be reduced to prime plus two per cent from the current prime plus five per cent. Most student loan recipients use the floating interest rate, which fluctuates, as opposed to the fixed interest rate, which remains constant for the duration of the loan. The prime rate refers to the annual interest rate that major financial institutions set.

These cuts are expected to cost the federal government $1.7 billion over the next five years. The budget predicts that the average student will consequently save approximately $2,000 over the period of their loan.

Currently, during the grace period, Ontario students who use the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) are not charged the one per cent over prime interest rates for the provincial portion of their loans, but the federal portion of loans begin accumulating interest immediately following graduation.

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives’ OSAP reconfigurations earlier this year eliminated the interest-free grace period for the provincial portion of student loans. This means that the statuses of the federal and provincial portions of OSAP loans have effectively swapped. Perhaps ironically, one of the stated reasons the Ontario government made changes to OSAP was to “align Ontario’s repayment terms with that of the federal government… to reduce complexity for students.”

The federal government is also set to implement interest- and payment-free leave for students using OSAP who are on temporary leave from university due to medical or parental reasons, including mental health leave. These can be used in six-month periods for up to 18 months total.

Additionally, the budget proposes increases in compensation to provinces and territories by $20 million over five years. This compensation will be used to supplement provincial student aid systems, like OSAP.

The federal government is also set to invest $15 million to support students with loans who have disabilities or are in “vulnerable financial or life situations.”

Other changes

Sweeping changes are in store for job- and volunteer-seekers. Initiatives to create 15,000 service placements, connect 90,000 young people with jobs, add 84,000 new work placements by 2023–2024, and provide five years of support to 1,000 entrepreneurs will cost the federal government a total of $1.2 billion.  

The federal government has also proposed an additional investment of $37.4 million over five years to expand parental leave coverage for postsecondary students and postdoctoral fellows. It also expands coverage from six months to 12. The budget notes that these expansions “will further improve equity and inclusion in research.”

Over five years, $147.9 million of the budget will also be used to develop a new International Education Strategy. Part of these funds will go toward developing “an outbound student mobility program” for students who pursue studies or work abroad, while the other part will “ensure that top-tier foreign students continue to choose Canada as their education destination of choice.”

University of Toronto President Meric Gertler praised the announced expansion of master’s and doctoral scholarship awards and mobility programs. “These investments in experiential learning are investments in Canada’s future,” he said.

“The investments are good news because they will drive economic growth by giving Canadians the skills they need to succeed. They will enhance the success of U of T graduates and others across the country who are entering the labour force.”

What we know about the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary education

U of T stands to lose $88 million in expected revenue, describes little communication with province

What we know about the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary education

On January 17, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU) Merrilee Fullerton stood before a room full of media in the provincial offices east of Queen’s Park to announce that Ontario universities must cut domestic tuition by 10 per cent, provide “opt-out” options for incidental fees, and adhere to broad changes made to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

Despite some clarifications made in an earlier Varsity interview with David Piccini — the Parliamentary Assistant to Fullerton — ambiguity remains about the specifics of the provincial mandate. The university has also not commented heavily on the issue.

Meanwhile, several protests organized by student unions and other groups have occurred across the province, with more to come. In these protests, thousands of students demanded answers about what these changes will mean for them.

Based on further interviews with the government and the university, The Varsity takes a look into what we know and what we don’t know about the cuts so far.

Domestic tuition cut by 10 per cent

Repeatedly described as “historic” by Piccini, the Ford government’s leading announcement is of a 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition for the next academic year, which will also apply to graduate studies, including Master of Business Administration and Juris Doctor programs. The government has also mandated a tuition freeze for the following year.

Universities and colleges will have to absorb any losses in revenue, as the cut is unfunded by the provincial government.

In an interview with The Varsity, U of T Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr said that these cuts will take $65 million off of the university’s base budget, or $88 million from its expected revenue, since the university had planned to continue raising tuition by three per cent.

In the second year, the changes will cost the university $113 million.

Regehr went on to say that the impact will vary depending on individual divisions, as some divisions rely more heavily on domestic tuition income, but also said that there will be university-wide adjustments as well.

“What we hope to do is find solutions that minimally impact students, staff and faculty, and programs,” said Regehr.

Regehr also confirmed that international tuition will not be affected by the cut, adding that the university plans to follow its already-published tuition framework.

Speaking to The Varsity, Piccini declared that such changes were what he and the Ford government were elected to do.

“I’ve been in meetings with… university presidents, administrators since day one. I’ve been out on campuses and have been in various universities. We’ve been here speaking to presidents as well. And they’ve all said, ‘We know a tightening of the belt is coming,’” said Piccini.

However, in the interview with Regehr, the provost said that neither she nor the university had held discussions with the provincial government on the changes to the university’s funding structure, and that, since then, the university has only received directives through the Council of Ontario Universities — with no word from the provincial government or Fullerton’s office.

When this was brought up to Piccini, he said that The Varsity was “cherry-picking” this policy. “Do you think it’s feasible for our government, every time it introduces legislation, to go around the province on every single piece of draft legislation introduced? That’s unrealistic,” he said.

Piccini went on to say that he had received a “standing ovation” at events after bringing up postsecondary affordability, and that the 10 per cent domestic tuition slash was a result of conversations at events, on campuses, and “over a kitchen table.”

“So in summation, all of that has fed into this policy.”

OSAP interest rates, grants, loans

OSAP will also be undergoing dramatic changes, primarily centred around a push to provide more grants to students whose household income falls below a $50,000 threshold. To accommodate this change, the Ontario government will be shifting the program to provide more loans than grants.

Interest will also begin accruing from day one after graduation, where previously, interest did not accrue on provincial loans for a six-month grace period.

For students in second-entry programs or attending out-of-province institutions, the grant-to-loan ratio will now be a minimum 50 per cent loan.

When asked how these changes would help students, Piccini answered that the government needs to be “fiscally responsible” — later claiming that “you could pull up to university in a Ferrari” and still receive grants under the previous OSAP system. He returned with a question of his own, asking why the federal government does not have parity with Ontario in its grant-to-loan ratio.

Emphasizing that “the sustainability of the system” needs to be ensured, Piccini also said that preserving the “integrity of the structure” of OSAP requires balancing “our own immediate interests” with the interests of students like those “in rural Ontario, whose families earn $30,000 median income in [his] riding.”

Regehr, who underscored the university’s high spending on student assistance, said that the university will work to “try and limit the impact of these changes on our students.”

Last year, U of T spent $210 million, or eight per cent of its budget, on student aid — more than any other university in Ontario, according to Regehr.

The Student Choice Initiative: an “opt-out” from incidental fees

The last mandate from the provincial government, dubbed the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), is for Ontario universities to develop an “opt-out” system for incidental fees, which would either be labelled “essential” or “non-essential.”

Already included in the “essential” category are walksafe programs, counselling, athletics, academic support, and health and safety-related fees.

Fullerton also announced on February 1 that transit passes, such as the ones offered at UTM, will also be considered essential.

Piccini expressed his belief that the SCI is in no way analogous to taxes, saying that he could “make that analogy ad nauseam” to all issues.

Piccini said that to compare funds for “the quidditch club or [to] boycott and divest Israel… with taxes is laughable at best and worrisome at worst.”

Piccini also gave the example of subscription fees for media outlets like The Globe and Mail or the National Post as a reason for why campus media should not be considered essential.

He added that the fees being considered non-essential “have nothing to do with taxes and have nothing to do with the essential services that government provides,” going on to say that “we prescribe and force feed down new students’ throats things — and from people whom they didn’t elect, programs that they didn’t vote to support.”

On whether health and dental programs offered by student unions are considered “essential,” Piccini said that these will be ongoing discussions between the universities and the student unions.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union currently administers the health and dental plans for full-time UTSG and UTM students, though there is an existing opt-out option for these fees.

Piccini had also confirmed in a previous interview that universities will have final say on the decisions to be made about which fees are labelled “essential” or “non-essential.”

Regehr, however, says that the university is waiting for a clearer mandate from the provincial government.

“We just don’t know what that means and what kind of latitude is expected, and whether there are parameters around that, like [if] certain amounts have to be optional,” said the provost. “We just don’t know that.”

“We certainly support the kinds of activities that are funded by student fees. We think that those are important and really enhance the student experience.”

Opinion: Shortsighted changes to OSAP, tuition will have long-lasting ripple effects

Students will pay the price for Progressive Conservatives’ political manoeuvre

Opinion: Shortsighted changes to OSAP, tuition will have long-lasting ripple effects

The provincial government’s recently announced changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) have been met with protests and widespread criticism, and for good reason — how can the government enact such a consequential move when it has insufficient data, all the while cowering behind the guise of program sustainability and student affordability? To try and make sense of the Progressive Conservatives’ (PC’s) move, let’s put into context the previous Liberal government’s program changes and delve deeper into the government’s principal evidence trove: last month’s Auditor General report.    

While proposing the 2016 budget, the Liberals announced a plan to completely redesign student financial assistance, based on several reports such as the 2012 Drummond Commission report, with the goal of increasing accessibility and affordability. The principle change would be the provision of a majority of the funds upfront — in the form of grants — while eliminating loan forgiveness programs and tuition tax credits to counterbalance the rise in costs. Other changes included consolidating existing OSAP grants, modifying eligibility criteria to recognize family size as well as income, and expanding support for mature students. This sweeping transformation resulted in the program cost jumping from $1.347 billion in the 2016–2017 academic year to $1.614 billion in 2017–2018 — an almost 20 per cent increase that surpassed previous projected estimates — but should it have led to the PC’s latest program repeal?

The sudden increase is not only due to the change in the composition of student aid but also thanks to an increase of 24 per cent in the number of university OSAP recipients and 27 per cent in college recipients. The surge in uptake rates is what the redesign was supposed to do — make more students eligible for a reduction in loans.

The Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk sees this same statistic as a sign that money is going to those who don’t need it, with no proof of aid being received by the low-income communities. Moreover, she argues that by the 2020–2021 academic year, the program cost would have ballooned to $2.012 billion — a 50 per cent net increase from 2016–2017.

How exactly did the Auditor General arrive at this projection in the first place?

OSAP costs would have to increase at a pace of more than 7.6 per cent year-on-year from 2017–2018 to reach the purported $2.012 billion target. This is more than twice the annual increase from 2013–2014 to 2016–2017 when the average annual increase was 2.09 per cent. How can the Auditor General justify such a projection, based on only one year’s worth of evidence? Especially considering the PC’s own argument that the increase in enrollment has been modest at a rate of one to two per cent? In fact, as the program takes effect and the dust settles, the ministry will tighten oversight and we could expect a plateau in costs.

How do the PC’s want to proceed instead? Their answer is with a 10 per cent tuition cut across the board, a freeze for the 2020–2021 academic year, and the possible opt-out option non-tuition fees. This “historic” proposal will not do much to help those who need financial support for education the most. The Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton said it herself: on average, the program will save a university student $660 per semester — hardly enough to cover textbooks for most programs.

The government will also not be providing any support for the institutions to recoup their losses, saying that a 10 per cent cut will only amount to a two to four per cent reduction in operating revenues. But even so, two years of consecutive declines could lead to universities hiking tuition at a hitherto unseen rate from 2021–2022 onward if the government does not implement any restrictions. In the interim, to make up for lost domestic revenues, the universities could also increase international enrollment and tuition for which there are no provincial regulations. The other thing to note is that the PC’s have not clarified whether they will be reinstituting the loan forgiveness grants and the tuition tax credits that the Liberals scrapped in favour of the comprehensive grant program.

Empirically and from a policy standpoint, many studies show that a tuition decrease does little to improve affordability and accessibility, but instead lowers the quality of education. On the other hand, other studies have shown that increasing the proportion of non-repayable funds will have a positive effect on enrolment — given time — and enhance accessibility for those families in the lower income brackets.

In the short run, the PC’s will reduce OSAP costs and achieve a more balanced budget. However, wouldn’t taking on a short-term deficit to improve the quality of education instead be a risk worth taking? At minimum, they could have increased the proportion of loans for middle-income families while instituting tighter controls on the disbursement of grants.

In reality, the disbandment of the Liberal policy is just a political manoeuvre. At the end of the day, the students will pay the price.

Students march through Toronto protesting OSAP cuts, changes to non-tuition fees

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, protesters fight Ford government changes

Students march through Toronto protesting OSAP cuts, changes to non-tuition fees

Thousands of students chanted “Fuck Doug Ford” as they marched through the snow from Yonge-Dundas Square to Queen’s Park on Friday, January 25, protesting the provincial government’s recently announced changes to postsecondary education.

The march, which was organized by student groups and labour unions — including the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) and the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) — amassed in front of the Ontario legislature building amid neon posters and chants, including, “The students united will never be defeated.”

The changes announced by the Ford government on January 17 would reduce domestic tuition rates by 10 per cent, eliminate the six-month interest-free grace period on Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loans, shift provincial funding for students from mainly grant-based to loan-based, and make certain student incidental fees optional in an opt-out system.

Students join from across the province to protest

Speakers emphasized the diversity of the students in attendance, who came from all over the province to protest both their personal concerns over the Ford government’s plan and their overarching concerns for student life at colleges and universities.

Among them, U of T students echoed the anger of all students at the protest. Max Xi, a computer science, psychology, and linguistics student at U of T, attended the rally because he believes that student leadership can build a more vibrant campus, also saying that the mental health resources that could be cut have helped him in university.

Xi believes that the changes to student groups and student life will “further worsen the… atmosphere of U of T as a very isolating and overly academic… depressing place.”

For criminology and sociolegal studies student Allie McMillan, the 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition is the most damaging of the announced changes as it “completely disregards accessibility and equity.”

“I think by making the 10 per cent cut, [Ford] is fully just proving that he only cares about the upper class and those who are already able to attain an education without the help of the government,” she said.

Political science student Hamid Mohamed said that, as a recipient of OSAP grants and someone directly impacted by the changes to the grant and loan structure, he is protesting “because [Ford] hasn’t consulted with us and it affects the very livelihood of our campus institutions.”

He added that, in particular, student unions are a necessary check on the university administration and they are now at risk of having their funding cut.

Andrew Gallant, a political science, criminology, and sociology student, believes that the announced changes are anti-democratic.

“It doesn’t make any sense. I do understand why these sorts of cuts have to be made, but I think that the way that they have been implemented has been poor,” he said.

Speakers rally students, decry Ford government changes

“They have woken up a monster,” said Felipe Nagata, President of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union and incoming Chairperson of the CFS–O. Nagata led the chants at the front of the march and also gave a speech at Queen’s Park while surrounded by a mass of students.

“We’re not going to stop until free tuition is here, we’re not going to stop until education is accessible, and we’re not going to stop until every single student and every single person has access to education regardless of their gender or their race or their background or their abilities,” said Nagata.

Jacob Landau, the Director of Operations for March for Our Education and a political science student at U of T, was the first person to speak at Queen’s Park. March for Our Education is a student advocacy group that was created last year in protest of Ford’s policies.

Landau said that the issues uniting the protesters transcend party lines, as evidenced by the diverse political affiliations of the speakers at the rally. “They all know that it is not a political issue. This is about education. This is about our kids, and this is about our future as a province,” he said.

Chair of CUPE 3902 Jess Taylor — the labour union representing contract academic workers at U of T — also spoke on stage at Queen’s Park, saying, “It’s not just our academic workers, it’s also our support workers, our service workers. Everybody working and studying on campus across Ontario. Many of our members rely on OSAP to get their education.”

Nour Alideeb, the outgoing CFS–O Chairperson and a part-time sixth-year student at UTM studying economics, biology, and women and gender studies, heralded the need for a defence of student democracy against the changes.

“The announcements we heard last week are nothing short of an attack on students. Student democracy is under attack because this government is afraid of us,” said Alideeb. “We are the watchdogs. We are the ones that hold this government and our local administrations accountable.”

Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath, the Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Leader of the Official Opposition in Ontario, solidified her support for the student movement at the rally as she stood on stage flanked by local NDP MPPs.

Smiling as the crowd broke out into “Fuck Doug Ford” chants, she jokingly chastised the protesters for using “unparliamentary language,” but said that she understood where the students were coming from.

“I am here to say that New Democrats are standing with you and against Doug Ford. And we are here to say no to charging more interest on student loans. No to his callous cuts to OSAP. And hell no to his attacks on student unions.”

Alideeb, in an interview with The Varsity, also emphasized free postsecondary education as the ultimate goal for accessible education.

“The [CFS] has, since its existence in 1981, advocated for free and accessible postsecondary education… I think the first thing we need to prioritize is low-income students, and then make our way to ensure that everyone has free postsecondary education,” she said.

Crysta Montiel, a third-year student student studying philosophy at U of T who organized the march along with another student, channelled similar ideas in her speech.

“Under the Conservative government, post-grads will be straddled with mountains of accumulated debt,” she said. “It’s a paradox because we’re unable to find a job to pay it all. And the only way to break the cycle is to have free education for all.”

In Photos: Students gather in Queen’s Park to protest cuts to OSAP, university funding

The emergency rally was held on January 18

In Photos: Students gather in Queen’s Park to protest cuts to OSAP, university funding

Is Ford “for the students”?

Contributors debate the announced changes to tuition, funding, student fees frameworks

Is Ford “for the students”?

On January 17, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative (PC) Ontario government announced changes to postsecondary education, which include lower domestic tuition, Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) reforms, and an opt-out option for ancillary fees. This has sparked conversation about the nature of affordable education and student democracy on university and college campuses. Below, five students answer whether or not these changes are, as the PCs claim, “for the students.” 


No: tuition and OSAP cuts altogether reflect a cynical move 

Ford is trying to cheat the system and pull the wool over students’ eyes. Good education costs money and U of T students — domestic ones, at least — have it pretty good as is. Although tuition is still expensive, we’re paying pennies compared to our southern neighbours. 

Ford’s move has jeopardized the financial stability of universities as well. According to HuffPost, mammoth credit rating agency Moody’s released a report on Monday cautioning the Ontario government about the negative implications of such a random and drastic tuition slash. Although no university’s credit rating has been downgraded yet, a senior credit officer with Moody’s said he’ll be watching Ontario universities closely. 

The more upsetting part of the tuition slash is that it’s simply a cheap cover for Ford’s OSAP cuts. It’s a cynical and shifty move by Ford, and it makes students feel as if they’re being scammed and tricked. The recent protests prove this sentiment. 

Another potential implication of this move is that it could divide students along lines of income. Students who no longer are eligible for OSAP — or who are seeing their benefits reduced — may see themselves at odds with those who are still eligible for the assistance and may become resentful because of it. 

A more modest tuition cut, by itself, would have benefitted students and the province at large. But when you step back and see the cynicism of the move in its entire context, you realize something: cheaper is not always better. 

Ted Fraser is a third-year International Relations student at Victoria College.


Yes: the tuition cut saves students money and is the responsible choice 

When I was a high school freshman, the prospect of postsecondary education seemed like a bright one. U of T, our esteemed, multi-billion-dollar institution especially promised to be a place for learning and innovation. However, there was one clear obstacle: its cost. Many students coming from lower or middle-income families, like myself, believe that the cost of university tuition is excessive. 

It is for this reason that savings in terms of tuition cuts should be welcomed. When I consider the fees at U of T, I see tuition prices were previously set to rise three per cent for the 2018–2019 academic year. This means that many students, including myself, would have potentially paid hundreds more dollars in high-cost tuition for every year that we pursued our degrees. Thousands more dollars go into residency and textbooks. Ford’s reduction of tuition by 10 per cent province-wide counters these costs and alleviates financial pressure on families like mine. 

The money we save can be invested instead into books, school materials, and living expenses for the upscale price tags of mediocre Toronto condos. Saving students’ money is the right, responsible choice, and one that invests in the financial stability of our future workforce.
The Ford government has received considerable criticism for introducing more loans over grants in the OSAP structure, a practice previously executed under provincial governments prior to Kathleen Wynne. The truth is that this model is structured on financial responsibility. Although student debt is a reality for most of us, the deficit that our province battles is enormous, to say the least. The shares of a multi-billion-dollar deficit are on the heads of every Ontarian. 

Tackling the provincial debt and managing the financial accessibility of postsecondary education are not mutually exclusive. The Ford government has made the funds available to students like myself to continue to pursue our postsecondary education. 

Andrea Chiappetta is a second-year Political Science, American Studies, and History student at Woodsworth College.


No: Ford’s opt-out model for student fees is an attack on student life

Social events, safe spaces, quality reporting, and community development: these are only some of the services provided by student-led and student-funded campus groups. But Ford’s plan to make “non-essential” fees optional means that many of these groups may lose their funding. His government argues that this change will let students choose what is “essential” to our university experience. But it is actually an attack on student life that refuses to acknowledge that campus groups are a necessity, not a luxury. 

Since my first year at U of T, I have been involved with both my residence and college council, two student-run publications, and a couple of clubs. I know so many dedicated people who pour their hearts into these campus groups and make a difference in their communities. I believe the existence of campus groups gives students the power to shape our own experiences at U of T. 

Student-run media outlets create platforms where we can voice our opinions and criticisms of events both in and out of the university. Student groups provide us with the space to organize ourselves and engage with our surroundings according to our own interests. Furthermore, they allow student leaders and student bodies to forge strong community networks and a sense of solidarity in what can feel like an ocean of people here at U of T. In other words, the services that are paid for by student fees are far from just ‘optional,’ and making them so will be devastating to the health and vibrancy of life on campus.

It is in the university’s power to decide if any student fees besides those related to health and athletics are “essential.” As students, we owe it to ourselves to push the administration and protect the spaces of agency that campus groups carve out for us. 

Michelle Zhang is a second-year Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies, Urban Studies, and Political Science student at Innis College. 


Yes: the opt-out model for student fees strengthens democracy 

I first clarify that I believe that student loans should be forgiven and postsecondary education should be freely available without financial barriers to access, as education is arguably the greatest long-term investment.

Having said that, in lieu of such far-sighted societal investment, I understand what it means to be in a weak financial position, where paying an extra $500–2,000 per year for non-essential and non-tuition fees can be a struggle. Coupled with some of the highest postsecondary tuition fees in all of Canada, and further confounded by the burden of the highest national cost of living, students in Toronto are at even greater financial risk.

Critics like Nour Alideeb, the Canadian Federation of Students—Ontario chairperson, suggested, among other things, that reforms to student fees are an attack against democratically elected student unions. Such criticism should be disregarded as fear-mongering.

Contrary to their fears, the reforms are part of a broader democratization of tuition fees to re-enable and empower people to take control of decisions with respect to their financial resources.

The current forced fee system shares an uncanny resemblance to the sort of negative-option billing ruled illegal by both federal and provincial governments. It is not acceptable for anyone to feel entitled to dictate and override another person’s individual rights with respect to access and management of their own financial resources.

Elected or not, it’s morally wrong to trojan-horse individual student accounts and usurp another’s financial resources for services that should, in reality, be paid for by actual end users and not by speculated potential users.

The greatest indicator of the worth of some service or product is its position in a free market predicated on choice. For instance, take a look at the success of organic and fair trade products. Students who bike to campus can choose to pay for Bikechain and others can, instead, focus their own money on transit passes. We vote with our dollars and that’s how it should be. 

Oscar Starschild is a second-year Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science student at Woodsworth College.


No: The student fees opt-out model could further divide the Ontario student movement

There is much concern that allowing students to opt out of student fees will result in significant funding decreases for services that student unions provide. Such decreases can be expected, given the low levels of engagement in student unions, and particularly in the University of Toronto Students’ Union, where voter turnouts of less than 20 per cent are common. If over 80 per cent of students represented by a student union do not vote in the annual elections, take part in its activities, or rely on its services, there is little to keep them from remaining members if they have the opportunity to keep their student fees. 

However, funding decreases would limit student unions’ ability to advocate for a better quality of education against much wealthier university administrations and governments. If enough students opt out, student unions would no longer be able to provide services or would have to drastically increase their levies, which would, in turn, prompt more students to leave. Student union staff may have to be laid off and some student unions may even collapse.

While the students who opt out would have a little more money, they would no longer be protected by student unions. It would be much easier for university administrations to raise their tuition fees as opposed to those of unionized students. 

Perhaps, if non-unionized students would be able to make their own separate student unions, there could be hope. This is especially because students enduring abuse and corruption under unions that have questionable or broken democratic systems, like the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, may be able to separate and form better representative organizations. 

However, not only would it be difficult to convince universities to acknowledge multiple unions of the same student demographics, but such fragmentation would likely make it harder for students to organize collectively.

Justin Patrick is a first-year master’s student in Political Science. He was recently elected as the Internal Commissioner of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union.