It’s a new year, which is usually a time for new beginnings. Unfortunately, for AU students in Ontario, this time of reflection and refocus was interrupted by some major changes announced by the Ontario provincial government.
On January 17th the Ontario government publicized their plan to make education more affordable for students in Ontario. In order to accomplish this, they announced that tuition fees would be cut by 10% at all Ontario universities and colleges, then frozen for the next two years (to begin September 2019).
They also announced that many ancillary fees, to be classified as either “essential” or “non-essential”, would become optional so that students can choose which services they want to support. Initially, we can all agree that this sounds like great news for Ontario post-secondary students.
While these changes initially sound good, they come with some serious costs for both Ontario students and AU students residing in Ontario that must be considered.
In addition to the tuition cuts, the government announced changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), which include the elimination of the interest free grace period. This does not mean that you have to start paying back your loan immediately, but as soon as you graduate, you begin to accrue interest. On top of this, the free tuition program that was implemented in 2017 has been eliminated, which will affect upwards of 230,000 Ontario students. This means that the amount of government grants Ontario students would have normally received will now be decreased, with students needing to rely more on student loans.
At the end of the day, some students may save some money, however they will likely end up paying for it in other ways. One reason for this is that the Ontario government will not be making up the $440 million-dollar difference in revenue to the universities and colleges in that province, so they will have to find creative ways to balance their budgets. Often, institutions are forced to make up lost revenue through decreases in staff or services, both of which hurt students. These changes will certainly be felt by our fellow AU students, as the tuition plan – while not impacting their tuition or fees – will decrease their OSAP grants and their ability to finance their educations. These changes are very concerning for AUSU, and we are working to see how we can work with our Ontario partners to communicate to the Ontario government how damaging these changes will be.
I have already seen many stories from students who have described how the free tuition program was what allowed them to finally pursue a post-secondary education. With that now gone, many students are worried that they will not be able to continue with their post-secondary studies. We want to see students receive the support that they need in order to succeed in their studies and we will continue to work with all levels of government to ensure that students receive that support.