As post-secondary students across Ontario begin to experience the impacts of the updated Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) has launched a province-wide campaign encouraging students to express their concerns with the OSAP cuts and demand change.
Earlier this year, Premier Doug Ford’s Conservative government announced several alterations to OSAP. Some changes include the removal of the six month post-graduation grace period in which student loans do not accrue interest, cuts in funding and grants going to low-income families, as well as an update to the definition of independent student.
While the Ford administration claims that the decision to cut tuition by 10 per cent keeps Ontario’s most vulnerable families in mind, many students are unconvinced.
“I work two part-time jobs on campus, work full-time during the summer and still rely on OSAP grants,” said one McMaster student in OUSA’s campaign video on OSAP cuts.
On Sept. 10, 2019, OUSA announced a letter-writing campaign in response to recent changes made by the provincial government to OSAP.
Formed in 1992, OUSA is a provincial lobbying organization that represents 150,000 students at eight student associations across Ontario, including McMaster. It aims to effectively lobby the provincial government for change and to ensure that Ontario students receive an affordable post-secondary education.
In response to their call for participants, OUSA received over 200 letters from students across the province who shared how they would be impacted by the OSAP changes.
The cuts to OSAP have caused Adam Yu, a second year McMaster student in integrated biomedical engineering and health sciences, to rethink his post-graduation plans.
"It's one less safety net for me when I graduate, which really makes me worry about my financial outlooks. It dissuades me from pursuing my aspirations of medical school,” said Yu in his letter.
Others have had to take on take on additional work hours, which affects the amount of time they can spend on school and extracurriculars.
"OSAP has had a huge effect on my student life this year. As a result of OSAP cuts I have had to actively look out for part time jobs which will have an effect on the amount of time I can spend on extracurriculars that I enjoy doing,” wrote a student who wishes to remain anonymous.
Students also expressed worry about paying off their student loans. Previously, there was a six month period post-graduation in which interest was not charged on student loans. The removal of the grace period was another cause of concern that students mentioned in their letters.
“I am scared that I won’t have the grace period before interest starts once I graduate,” said Jessica Lim, a student in their last year at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
OUSA has now called for the provincial government to reverse the changes made to OSAP and consult students for a framework that meets their needs in a public letter sent to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano.
“The adverse effects of these changes have already been felt by students across the province who rely on financial assistance to access post-secondary education and enter the workforce,” said OUSA in their letter.
The letter continues to say that some students have been forced to postpone or withdraw from their post-secondary education because they no longer have the financial assistance required to continue with their studies.
OUSA has asked that all students affected by or concerned about the changes made to OSAP sign the letter and, if comfortable, add their own personal story to send to Premier Ford, Minister Romano and their local member of provincial parliament.