A News Commentary by Jacob Falardeau, a Welland, Ontario native, college student and member of the Council of Canadians, a nation-wide citizens advocacy group
Posted October 19th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
We are living in a golden age of post-secondary education; this September marked the first time in history the poorest youth in our society finally have access to post-secondary education thanks to a revamped OSAP that includes “free” tuition.
At least, that’s what the provincial government would have you believe.
As a matter of fact, the so-called “free tuition” is anything but. The revamped OSAP program has many flaws that are seldom mentioned by the government.
One of the largest flaws with this program is the lack of clarity as to what is meant by the claim “free tuition”; one could be forgiven for assuming that this means that the full cost of university would be covered. However, this is not the case. As an example, the tuition and fees for a domestic student at Glendon taking a full course load are equal to $7,523 per year.
The problem is, the government’s “free tuition” grant is only worth $6,500 per year because it isn’t indexed to the actual cost of tuition but it rather is based on the average cost of tuition. This means that students will still be on the hook for $1,123 and that’s before they even have time to consider things like textbooks, residence, and the cost of getting to and from school.
The students who are hardest hit by this are the students who are in more expensive programs such as engineering or law who will be forced to seek financial aid elsewhere in order to cover the gap in funding that the government has created.
The second major flaw with this program is coverage. The most recent government statistics show that over 200,000 students will be eligible for the “free tuition” program and that over 170,000 students would be receiving more funding then they would have in previous years.
However, this is only a tiny fraction of the 822,465 students who are enrolled in Ontario’s 44 public universities and colleges according to Statistics Canada. This means that almost 55% of Ontarian post-secondary students will still face the same outrageous tuition fees that they have faced in previous years.
Part of the reason why the percentage is so high is because the government is only providing “free tuition” to students who have parents who earn under $50,000. This means that even middle-class families aren’t eligible for this grant as the program doesn’t take debt loads into account. OSAP also takes your own income into account which means that a student who decides to be financially-independent and work a summer job will actually see less funding as a result.
The third major flaw is the fact that the government removed other grants in order to pay for this “free tuition” which has made it harder for many students to pay for their education. In previous years, students used to be able to claim the cost of tuition, textbook and other educational expenses as a tax credit.
Another grant that was removed was one that was given to Francophones and students from rural areas who had to travel further than 80 kilometres from their homes in order to pursue an education at the nearest university that offered programs in French; this grant has since been removed and is now considered part of the “free tuition” grant.
The problem with the “free tuition” grant is that instead of providing students with new and expanded financial aid, the government has instead redistributed existing funding into a single large grant. In essence, the government has merely shifted funding around in order to make it seem as if they are making a commitment to improving access to post-secondary education.
It’s very clear the government has failed Ontario’s students and is attempting to manipulate us. Instead of offering us real change and giving us the financial freedom that we need in order to pursue our lives after university without having to worry about making our next student loan payment instead they have offered us useless platitudes that only serve to keep students from protesting like they did out in Quebec back in 2010.
There’s no question that the revamped OSAP will help reduce the financial burden that many students face; it’s still dishonest to refer to it as “free tuition”.
For me, “free tuition” would mean a universal program that would cover all students regardless of their income in order to lift students out of poverty and help students succeed.
As students, we have the ability to tell the people in power that we demand lower cost education and that we won’t stand for constant tuition increases because once we are united as one, we will never be defeated.
Jake Falardeau is a first-year political science student (Glendon College of York University) from Welland with an interest in activism and social justice. He first got involved in politics during the 2014 Ontario election and has since become a member of numerous political and activist organizations including the Council of Canadians.
About the Council of Canadians – Founded in 1985, the Council of Canadians is Canada’s leading social action organization, mobilizing a network of 50 chapters across the country.
Through our campaigns we advocate for clean water, fair trade, green energy, public health care, and a vibrant democracy. We educate and empower people to hold our governments and corporations accountable.
For more information on the Council of Canadians and the issues it is addressing, click on – https://canadians.org/ .
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