Ontario tuition cuts will hurt, not help, students

For some students in Ontario, the risk of not being able to fulfill their academic dreams is now more real than ever.

The Progressive Conservative (PC) government of Ontario has eliminated the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP), which had granted free tuition for low-income students. Their reason for doing so? They claimed that costs for the program could reach $2 billion by the year 2020-21, an unsustainable number given their $12 billion deficit.

Instead, the Tories are slashing tuition by 10 per cent, meaning that post secondaries will have to find alternative revenues for their programs, organizations, and facilities, and these revenues might just come out of students’ pockets. The shortage of funds created by reduced tuition will cause things like courses being cancelled, increasing class sizes, less faculty members, and so on.

Along with the reduction of tuition costs, the PCs have introduced the Student Choice Initiative, which will allow Ontario students the choice to opt-out of students fees of their choice, save for a few mandatory ones.

From an affordability standpoint, this might seem like a good idea, considering the large amount of money we pay, as students, to facilities and student organizations that some of us don’t really take part in, such as certain student clubs and student newspapers. From a U of A student’s perspective, our Students’ Union alone collects around $100 per student every semester in fees.

However, Nour Alideeb, a chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, argues that being able to opt out of payment for certain fees is a “direct attack on the groups that actually try to hold the government accountable when it comes to student issues.”

Again, putting this in the context of U of A, reduced funding for SU would take away a great deal of power from students. Not only does the SU provide various different services such as the Campus Food Bank, businesses such as SubPrint and L’Express catering, and provide renovations for places like SUB Atrium and the Myer Horowitz Theatre, the SU represents the student body on the government scale. Members of SU represent us on the Council of Alberta University Student (CAUS) to lobby the government. Therefore, as Nour argues, limiting funding to students’ unions would mean the halting of a number of campus services and reduction of student influence on the government.

Beyond service cuts, it’s also important to understand that the loss of OSAP will seriously harm low-income students. In September 2017, OSAP guaranteed the coverage of tuition fees for one in four students. A 10 per cent cut to tuition won’t benefit these students since they won’t be provided the same type of assistance they were receiving under OSAP. In addition, grant cuts will force low-income students to take out loans that they will have to pay back later on. The cuts might even prevent students to attend post-secondary institutions.

From their outside perspective, it’s easy for the government to decide, to cut OSAP and make student fees optional. This brings up questions about priority.

Who and what does the government prioritize? It’s evident that it’s not students. What the Tories need to understand is that cutting grants to deal with their deficit isn’t the solution. They’re merely fixing one problem by creating many more.

Through cutting student grants and replacing them with tuition cuts, as well as making student union fees optional, the Ontario government will cause serious complications for universities funding, postsecondary access for low-income students, and student bodies being able to hold their institutions to account.

Governments shouldn’t be allowed to make life-altering decisions without taking into account the realities of student life first.

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