Students across Ontario are concerned about the effects that recent changes to OSAP will have on their education.
In addition to changes in tuition structure, the Student Choice Initiative allows students to opt out of many ancillary fees, including the fees that fund student unions.
On Jan. 29, Feds President Richard Wu signed a letter along with 75 other post-secondary institutions from across Canada, expressing the disappointment of students in the changes made to OSAP.
The Ford government announced several changes to OSAP in mid-January.
These include a 10 per cent reduction in tuition, a mandatory loan to grant ratio of 50 per cent, the removal of the six-month grace period, and the Student Choice Initiative.
Matthew Gerrits, current VP of Education who is also running for re-election, has taken the lead on addressing the changes for Feds. He emphasized the detrimental effects that the Student Choice Initiative may have on student unions.
“Most universities depend on student unions who were funnelling the student voice to them on lots of different committees,” he said. “[Student unions] as a sector stakeholder across the entire country see this is something that is potentially harmful.”
In particular, student unions are concerned about the lack of funding stability that may occur when Feds fees are not mandatory, and the effects that this instability will have on the short and long-term function of Feds.
“How do we budget for staff when we don’t know if we are going to see 100 per cent of our fee collected or if we’re going to see 20 per cent, how are we going to try and invest in long-term projects?” Gerrits said.
“Suddenly, a lot more of our efforts will be less focused on providing services and there’ll be a lot more trying to figure out.”
The letter that Wu signed stated, “Without stable, predictable funding student unions will be forced to end a wide variety of programs and services … undermining the protection and creation of jobs on campus.
With a 10 per cent tuition cut and no additional public funding, we know institutions themselves won’t pick up the slack.”
Universities will also see a decrease in revenue from the mandatory tuition cuts, so Gerrits is unsure of how they will be able to mitigate the effects of the Student Choice Initiative on student unions.
“[The] university is going to be at a point where they’re going to have decreased revenue as well. They’re not going to have the ability to take on big, new projects … I would hesitate to say that there’s any conclusive thoughts of anybody taking anything over, because we don’t know what we are and aren’t going to be able to provide until the government gives more details,” Gerrits said.
The goal of the letter addressed to Premier Ford and Minister Merrilee Fullerton was to encourage the Ford government to do proper consultations with students and then make decisions that would be beneficial to all key stakeholders.
“We urge this government to sit down with student associations — as well as administrations, labour groups and business networks — to better understand how these changes will create a workforce less prepared and saddled with debt,” the letter stated.
“If postsecondary affordability is the government’s top concern, there are better avenues to address this. Many of those avenues have been advocated by the very student associations signing this letter.”
In the letter, student unions from across Canada expressed their disappointment in the Ford government’s decision, and stated that the changes will be harmful to low and middle-income students. The letter also stated that these changes will affect the ability of students to attain post-secondary education, thereby hindering their prospects in the workforce.
“The government’s recent changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) are disappointing, to say the least, for students and families.
“While we support the government’s goal in making postsecondary education more affordable in Ontario, the announced changes raise flags for students, families and anyone interested in the province’s ability to stay competitive in years to come,” the letter stated.