Monday , June 14 2021

Government of Ontario reversing liberal-era humanitarian aid reform

People walk at Toronto Scarborough Campus University in Toronto, November 3, 2017.

Mark Blinch / Globe and Mail

The Progressive Conservatives of Ontario are reversing the student aid reforms brought by the previous Liberal government as part of a package of changes to funding post-secondary education announced on Thursday. The government announced that some of the concessions levied in 2016 as "free monthly payments" will be reduced. Even students with the lowest income bracket will now receive a portion of their student aid as a loan, instead of just as a non-refundable donation.

The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) will now resemble its pre-2016 format, the government said.

Minister of Colleges and Universities Training Merrilee Fullerton also announced a 10 percent reduction in tuition for national students at colleges and universities in Ontario. The reduction in tuition revenue for schools will not be offset by government elsewhere, and will likely force universities and colleges to adjust their budgets.

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Fullerton estimated that this could mean a drop of 2% to 4% in the revenue of most institutions. She said there would be a contingency fund for northern schools where the impact could be higher because they have fewer international students whose rates can be increased. Fullerton said there will be no further cuts in institutional operating grants, which make up a large portion of the budgets of universities and colleges. Many institutions were concerned that they could face up to 10 percent in operational cuts as the Doug Ford administration made clear its intention to address the deficit. The government has also introduced changes to the rules on ancillary fees at universities. Students will now be able to choose not to receive any additional fees, ranging from hundreds of dollars to up to $ 2,000 in some schools, as long as they are not related to campus-wide services such as athletics or health and safety, such as a program walking insurance.

"We're putting the money back into the pockets of students and families," Fullerton said. "The changes we are making are for the students."

Fullerton said the government is focused on ensuring that students who need it most receive the bulk of government aid. The government's core document said that the share of funds for low-income families would increase from 69 percent to 72 percent and that 82 percent of the donations will go to people with a family income of less than $ 50,000. NDP opposition said the changes would end up harming students. "I think it's a sugar-coated poison pill," said Chris Glover, the NDP's education critic. "Students need more scholarships, not less."

In the 2016 budget, the liberals have re-used OSAP to provide a greater share of student aid in the form of grants, with the aim of increasing access for students from low- and middle-income families.

A report by the Auditor General in 2018 found that acceptance of the student assistance program, which grew 25 percent after its introduction, exceeded government expectations. The government said that Thursday's spending on OSAP exceeds $ 2 billion annually, a 50 percent increase over 2016-17.

Fullerton said that OSAP has become financially unsustainable.

The OSAP program previously did not take parental income into account for those who had been out of high school for more than four years, who were considered to be mature students. These students were treated as if they had no parental support, and the number of students who received OSAP increased by one-third in the first year after granting the grant.

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Under the pre-2016 system, about one-third of student aid came in the form of non-refundable grants and two-thirds in repayable loans. In 2017-18, 92 percent of the funds were spent on nonreimbursable grants and only 8 percent on loans. It was not clear on Thursday how that mix will change. Students will also be charged interest during the grace period of six months prior to the end of their studies.

Nour Alideeb, president of the Canadian Federation of Students of Ontario, said the news is disturbing from the student's point of view. Students will receive less aid in the form of grants and this will mean an increase in student debt, she said.

She described the decision to make ancillary fees optional as an attempt to silence campus critics, as opt-outs could hurt groups of students who advocate for political advocacy.

"It's a very scary move. I can not say I'm surprised, but it's an indication that they're trying to eliminate the groups that regard them," Alideeb said.

In 2017-18, more than 440,000 students received OSAP funds, up from 360,000 the year before. Almost 98% of the expenses were in the form of non-reimbursable donations, according to the report of the Auditor General.

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