Student groups such as the Canadian Federation of Students and the Ryerson Students’ Union applauded the province’s announcement this month that it is implementing new grants for low-income students, but that doesn’t mean they’ll ease up on lobbying for more accessible post-secondary education.
The Millennium-Ontario Access Grants program, a $100 million initiative funded by the province and the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation, was announced Aug. 16 by Training, Colleges and Universities minister Christopher Bentley.
Up to 16,000 students are expected to benefit from the grants. Students from low-income households are eligible to receive up to $3,000 toward their first-year tuition fees. Combined with Canada Access Grants — the federal government’s low-income grants program — eligible students could receive up to $6,000 toward their first year tuition fees.
Rebecca Rose, president of the Ryerson Students’ Union (formerly RyeSAC) is pleased with the announcement, but says she would like to see more grants available to students from all income brackets to help offset student debt.
“This is a really great start, it’s very exciting, but it’s not enough,” Rose says. “There are not enough grants for enough people, but it’s a start.”
Under the new program, bigger grants (up to $3,000) are reserved for students whose household incomes are less than $23,000. Students from households making less than $35,000 are eligible for less substantial grants.
Ryerson President Sheldon Levy says the grants are “a great first step,” but, like Rose, he thinks more needs to be done to make post-secondary education more accessible.
“Many groups of students, not only low-income students … need improved support, not only from grants and bursaries, but from improvements to OSAP,” he says. “I think there is a large number of general OSAP reforms that need to take place.” For Levy, that means raising the level of OSAP eligibility, so that more students can access loans.
But those aren’t the kinds of changes Rose and the RSU are calling for. They want more grants, not more loans.
OSAP loans that can leave students with thousands of dollars of debt. They’re also pushing for an extension of the two-year tuition fee freeze instituted last fall and, ultimately, for reduced tuition fees across the province.
“The Ontario government is not going to stop student debt by merely instituting grants,” Rose says. “Adequate grants are good, it’s a way better way to go than loans, but they also have to keep to their commitment of affordable education by keeping the tuition freeze and working toward a reduction.” High tuition fees, she says, make post-secondary education inaccessible.
“Education is a right. In our society, post-secondary education is such an important thing — you need it to be able to get a good job,” Rose says. “It should be equitable and people should be able to access it easily, no matter what their financial situation.”
The Millennium Scholarship Foundation will provide $76 million over four years to support the grants. The province will pay the remaining $24 million.
The Millennium-Ontario Grants program is the first one in Ontario since the last needs-based grants program was eliminated in the early 1990s under then-premier Bob Rae.