The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) is meeting with provincial election candidates to discuss issues related to post-secondary education and make recommendations on how to best benefit students. OUSA has released a provincial election brief, a document based off of their student platform, which focuses on three main issues: the lack of financial support for students who need it most, OSAP eligibility, and tuition rates. The first recommendation suggests that the government stop issuing new tuition and tax credits, and use this money (an expected $340 million in 2013) to provide better financial support for students in need. All of OUSA’s proposed measures can be accomplished within the parameters of the money saved by no longer issuing tuition and tax credits. OUSA targets financial assistance in three different ways: extended eligibility of the 30 per cent tuition rebate for all four years, regardless of high school graduation date ($70M), a reduction of the expected parental contribution to align with the federal contribution criteria ($40M), and a monthly $250 increase in OSAP living allowance to align with the after-tax, low-income cut-off ($90M). “$12,660 is what students are given in loans and grants to live off of … and $15,538 is the low income cut off … we feel that students should be above that line,” said Stephane Hamade, OUSA VP of finance, and Feds VP of education. OUSA also brought OSAP eligibility to the table. Currently, OSAP will provide enough for part-time students to cover tuition, but as it is assumed part-time students are working, OSAP will not provide living expenses. Hamade said, “Part-time students are often students who are in the most need … often students from lower income, students with dependents are the ones who end up taking part-time studies and we don’t feel like it’s fair that they might not have access to OSAP … just because they’re taking part-time studies doesn’t mean they can afford their tuition.” OUSA proposes that OSAP continue to provide tuition loans, and expand the living allowance program to include part-time students. The third recommendation that has been made suggests a one-year tuition freeze (at least), which OUSA suggests the government should off-set with an increase in per-student funding at a rate of three per cent per year. This last recommendation is largely supported by a survey, which was released by OUSA June 3. According to the study, “79 per cent of Ontarians believe that students and their families have to borrow too much money to pay for their education,” a sentiment echoed by 73 per cent of households with an income of $100,000 or higher, and 79 per cent of childless households. “Among the Ontario population as a whole we see that they believe that students take on too much debt and that’s a concern and something we are concerned about as well,” Hamade said. These three recommendations directly reflect back on three of the five focuses of the OUSA Ontario Student Platform. The student platform additionally recommends that the government “increase co-op placement opportunities by 10 per cent in underrepresented disciplines [arts, social sciences, sciences] over the next five years,” and “invest in open educational resources and textbooks that would be available as an option for faculty and students.” Hamade said, “In B.C. they have textbooks that are online and have been created with government funding, by faculty … they are high quality and they’re available online, so that students can access them … for free.” OUSA has recommended that the Ontario government adopt a similar program to help alleviate the cost of textbooks for students. “OUSA creates these documents through thorough research and these recommendations are based on our policies,” Hamade said. OUSA’s policies, as well as a full version of the Ontario Student Platform documents, are available online at www.ousa.ca.