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By Gloria Bacci

The province is pouring $50 million into post-secondary financial aid, and Ryerson’s midwifery students will be the first to benefit.

The province’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Chris Bentley, was at Ryerson last week to announce a new program that will help post-secondary institutions raise money for student bursaries. The government’s Ontario Trust for Student Support program will match individual and corporate cash donations put towards bursaries. Each year, $50 million will be set aside for this purpose.

“The magic of this program is that it expands the ability of government to provide assistance to needy students,” Bentley said. “It recognizes that education is a shared benefit and a shared responsibility…so we encourage individual and corporate donors to give.”

During its first year, the program will provide $4 to 5 million in additional bursaries, assisting nearly 3,000 students. The initiative replaces the Ontario Student Opportunity Trust Fund, which was criticized for its unequal distribution of government funds. Larger universities, such as Queen’s University and the University of Toronto, got a bigger share of the pot because of their large pool of alumni and fundraising abilities.

To help level the playing field, the new program will kick in extra money for institutions, such as Ryerson, that have had fundraising challenges in the past. “For those universities and colleges…we’re providing enhanced matching for three years,” said Bentley. “Ryerson University is going to benefit.” The government pledged to more than double a $100,000 donation to the Midwifery Education Program made by Dr. Murray Enkin and Eleanor Enkin.

Ryerson President Sheldon Levy applauds the province’s action to boost financial aid. “It certainly now challenges all of us at the university to get out there and raise more money,” said Levy. “And, we have the encouragement and support to be able to do that.”

Nicole Waithe, a fourth-year midwifery student, believes the government’s initiative will help students financially and academically. “It gives students the opportunity to focus more on their studies…as opposed to having to worry about other economic responsibilities,” she said. As a single parent, Waithe knows how important financial aid can be. She receives an annual bursary through the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

“The gift that Dr. Enkin and his wife have given will just further reduce the debt load of students, particularly single parents and families that have greater financial need.” Jeremy Salter, president of CESAR, agrees the new program is beneficial for lower-income students, but he doesn’t think it addresses the financial need of the majority of his members. “This will impact and benefit 3,000 students. CESAR has 62,000 (members)…and RSU has 20,000. So, 3,000 is quite a small number,” he said.

Nora Loreto, RSU vice-president education, is also concerned that middle-income students are being left out. “The series of announcements that we’ve been hearing from this government over the last few months is totally alienating the students from the income bracket of $35,000 and up,” she said. “It’s forcing them to take on private loans, lines of credit, credit card debt. We need to start actually looking at the source of the problem – which is tuition fees. Anything else is just a Band-Aid solution.”

The Ontario Trust for Student Support is part of the province’s plan to inject $6.2 billion into post-secondary education over the next five years. In September, the government announced that Ontario’s tuition fee freeze would end in 2006.

The province is set to table a new tuition funding program, and an initial framework should be ready by early next year.

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