Ontario’s game of loans

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In a push against student debt, the Ontario Liberal government announced new measures to subsidize student financial support in Fall 2016.</p>

With the release of the 2016 Ontario budget, all current financial assistance grants will be restructured and offered as a single up front Ontario Student Grant (OSG). Students who come from households that earn $50,000 or less will be eligible for free “average” tuition. As well, 50 per cent of students who come from households that earn $83,000 or less will be eligible for non-repayable grants.

Spencer Nestico-Semianiw, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), said that the group’s response to the reforms has been positive.

“OUSA’s stance is extremely positive regarding these budget changes. Many of the changes in post-secondary financial aid were a direct result of years of OUSA’s advocacy and partnership with the provincial government, and represent huge improvements to post-secondary accessibility,” he said.

The initiative will be funded by discontinuing education tax credits and the current Ontario grant system, and reallocating that money to the OSG. Nestico-Semianiw said OUSA strongly supports the restructuring.

“OUSA applauds the elimination of tuition and education tax credits, and their transition into more upfront and equitable support,” he said.

Additionally, students who come from higher income families will have easier access to financial assistance.

“The OSAP debt level (for higher income families) will be capped at $10,000 annually. It is currently capped at $7,400,” Feds VP of eduation Stephane Hamade wrote in an email to Imprint

Expected parental contributions will be significantly decreased for students from all household incomes. In particular, students from households that earn $110,000 will have “expected parental contributions reduced by almost $8,000,” Hamade said.

However, in February 2016, an article in Macleans magazine noted that the average university tuition quoted in the budget is lower than historical averages. According to the article, the provincial government claims that the average university tuition in Ontario is $6,160 while Statistics Canada places it at $7,868.

When asked if he thinks there are any limitations to the new grant, Nestico-Semianiw said that OUSA would need to take a deeper look.

“OUSA has not yet developed new policy as a result of these changes. OUSA will continue to advocate to ensure that these positive changes are not eroded through other increasing costs to students, but otherwise OUSA is overall very supportive of the changes,” he said.

Alex Usher, president of the Higher Education Strategy Associates and editor-in-chief of Global Higher Education Strategy Monitor, believes the Ontario student budget is “fantastic”. 

“This is the best thing to happen to student aid in nearly 20 years,” Usher said.

When asked if he believes that there may be limitations to the OSG that are buried within financial jargon, Usher brought up concerns.

“I think the fact that most independent students will not be eligible for it may come as a surprise to some. That seems to have been missed in a lot of the press build-up, and may cause some resentment later when it becomes more widely known,” he said.

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