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by Josh Swan

Students who use OSAP to pay for school will receive grant money if they need more than $7,000, according to new government regulations.

On Sept. 15 the provincial government announced a major change to the Ontario Students’ Assistance Program, which can provide students with a maximum of $11,200 for a two-term school year, up from $9,350. This amount hasn’t been changed since 1994, despite increases in tuition and other expenses.

Stephanie Murray, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Alliance, is pleased with the announcement.

“Anything on top of the $7,000 is all grant (money),” Murray said. “Students have access to more money, but the amount they’re paying back is the same.”

OSAP loans eventually have to be repaid with interest, unlike grant money, which is given to a student on the basis of financial need or academic merit.

Ryerson Students’ Union Vice-President Education Nora Loreto said the RSU doesn’t support increasing the amount of available loan money. She said the federal government uses loans to deal with the rising cost of tuition to make post-secondary education appear affordable.

“Needing a loan suggests that there’s a barrier (for going to university) in the first place,” she said.

While acknowledging its efforts, Loreto said the provincial government should be making more grants available to students in need.

“Grants are absolutely what we need. They will help students no matter what their financial status,” she said.

Ontario Chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Jesse Greener said more needs to be done to alleviate student debt.

The CFS favours grants instead of loans, and wants the federal government to improve and expand the Debt Reduction in Repayment program.

When it was first introduced in 1998, the program’s aim was to help decrease student debt. But only students living in low-income households qualified for financial assistance.

Greener said he is pleased with recent actions to combat student debt, such as the two-year tuition freeze.

“We think that these are historic steps forward,” Greener said, referring to changes that have allowed more affordable education, including the Ontario government’s $6.3-billion contribution to higher education and the tuition freeze.

“We must make sure as students become more in debt that we don’t see changes to the loans program as it exists,” Greener cautioned.

Tricia Jenset, a fourth-year accounting student who has received OSAP for the past three years, said she welcomes the funding increase, but thinks the government should really focus on a tuition freeze.

“Any improvement (to OSAP funding) is a positive improvement,” said Ryerson President Sheldon Levy. “But (the system) is really, really broken for some groups, like single parents and part-time students.”

Levy said he would like to see an increase in OSAP eligibility for part-time university students, but that fixing the problem of funding is “not without its complications.”

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