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Photo by Kyle West

On Jan 17, the provincial government announced plans to change the Ontario Student Assistance Program and cut tuition by 10 per cent.

The OSAP changes include requiring students to take out a loan when receiving an Ontario Student Grant, lowering the threshold to receive financial assistance, and eliminating the six-month interest-free period after graduation.

On Jan. 31, more than 75 student associations across Canada released an open letter demanding the government reverse the changes to OSAP.

Since the announcement, multiple protests have been held across the province, including in Hamilton.

Students at McMaster are also being affected by the changes, with more than 17,000 full-time students having applied for OSAP.

Many students are concerned about the shift in financial assistance towards loans instead of non-repayable grants.

First-year social sciences student Bryce Lawrence does not get money from her parents for tuition and says she would not be able to go to school without receiving grants and loans through OSAP.

This past year, Lawrence qualified to receive a higher proportion of grants compared to loans. Going forward, she will receive more money in loans and less in grants.

“The 10 per cent tuition decrease is nothing compared to the amount that we are not going to be getting anymore and it is going to be harder for a lot of students,” Lawrence said.

During the school year, Lawrence works three days a week, with the money going directly to basic expenses like groceries, gas and her phone bill.

“I worked hard in high school to get here and I need that money to get myself through it so that in the future I can get myself a good career that will help support a family,” Lawrence said.

Looking forward to next year, Lawrence says the money she gets from OSAP probably will not be enough to cover additional costs on top of tuition.

“It’s just frustrating,” She added. “It is going be weird not having the amount of money I need. Literally nothing is free in school. It is so expensive, and once the money goes into my tuition, I will not have enough to pay for my textbooks and stuff.”

Second-year political science student Zack Anderson said the elimination of the six-month interest-free period is especially harmful.

“It is already stressful enough once I do graduate to try and find a stable income, but I always kind of knew that that six-month cushion was going to be there for me and now that rug’s been pulled out from under me,” he said.

Anderson has relied heavily on OSAP. However, even with OSAP, Anderson still struggles to cover school and living costs beyond just tuition.

This year, he was forced to take a reduced course load and work three jobs to pay for tuition and living costs.

Over the summer, Anderson was working 70-hour weeks to save up for school.

“I have had to take out loans off the bank, I have maxed out credit cards before, done all these kinds of things to try to survive and you take it day by day, week by week,” Anderson said.

While there have yet to be any announcements since Jan. 17, the Ford government’s plans are expected to be in place for the 2019-2020 academic year.

 

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By: John Ruf

When renting, students generally have two options: either pay separate monthly utility bills for water, electricity and gas, or pay their landlord a flat rate every month. Many students living off campus opt for the latter — students pay a set price for monthly utilities and the landlord pockets the excess. How well does this system work?

The first disadvantage is that students have no financial motivation to conserve energy. They act like customers at an all-you-can-eat buffet, consuming as much as possible and giving no thought to waste. People like to joke that students are cheap and eat nothing but Kraft Dinner and ramen noodles, but in regard to our energy consumption we don’t tend to skimp. Students leave lights on, take hour-long showers and crank up the heat. Living like this, students might miss the opportunity to learn about energy conservation while living independently; a lesson that is integral to combatting our unsustainable lifestyles.

Because landlords have the potential to make a profit on student’s utility payments one would expect them to strive for energy efficiency by using LED light bulbs and proper insulation. However, this does not seem to be the case. Student houses often have old and inefficient appliances, insufficient insulation, and incandescent light bulbs. Since student rental property is an investment, most landlords want to minimize their initial capital input.

Unfortunately, the alternative to paying your landlord a monthly flat rate for utilities is not much better. Students who pay the bill themselves might be more likely to turn off lights and keep the furnace on low, but positive action might end there. Without profit as motivation, landlords will be even less likely to invest in an energy efficient home, and because students have relatively short tenancies, they won’t purchase expensive energy efficient products that take many years to become worthwhile.

Most economists agree that sustainable behaviour is achievable through strategically implemented incentives. The question becomes which is more likely to lead to positive change: students’ desires to live cheaply? Or landlords’ desires to maximize profits? So far, neither has worked. As behavioural economist Dan Ariely wrote in his book Predictably Irrational, “money, as it turns out, is very often the most expensive way to motivate people.” Perhaps it is time to turn our attention to other motivational tools to improve student housing and to reduce wasteful energy practices.

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