By Zahraa Alumairy
Post-secondary students in Ontario can expect to see some changes this year to what is perhaps the primary source of financial aid in the province, the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
The goal of these changes, first announced in Ontario’s 2015 budget, is to make OSAP easier for students to navigate, modernizing financial aid for students and increasing transparency and flexibility.
A statement on the Government of Ontario’s website details the most significant changes, such as:
- Giving students the ability to control the amount of aid they withdraw
- Removing the requirement to report a vehicle as an asset
- Setting a fixed student contribution of $3,000, an amount to be exempted from the financial aid assessment
- Indexing student aid to inflation by adjusting aid to match the growth in student costs, and increasing the loan limit.
As a vital facility for student funding in a province where post-secondary education is relatively expensive, these are welcomed adjustments. “A lot of kids were complaining… they needed drastic changes, and I think there’s going to be a lot of people that’ll be happy,” says Soumaya Lachemi, a first-year interior design student.
Chidinma Azubuike, a first-year urban and regional planning student, shares this sentiment. “It’s come at a right time because OSAP’s a really big part of university funding nowadays with a lot of people not having a lot of sources of income […] so I think it’s a very good change.”
But there has also been some criticism with the new program changes. Eavone Busia, a second-year new media student, believes that the increase of the loan limit could be problematic for students. “They keep giving you more and more so it’s kind of a trap, like they’re setting you up for them to owe you back,” she said.
For 2015 to 2016, the loan limit will be increased to $155 a week for single students, and $355 a week for students with a spouse and/or dependant children.
There are still quite a few things students would like to see taken into consideration on OSAP’s part, when it comes to distribution of financial aid and the process of assessment. Trina Sillano, another urban and regional planning student, expresses concern for those juggling their education and work, usually taken up to help with the cost of education.
“If, say, I start working and then OSAP gives me enough money for tuition, I can use that money for my own expenses,” she said. “Then there’s not so much stress on me to make more money or ask for money, so I feel like it’ll help a lot.”
Lachemi wants consideration for the fees required for materials in her interior design program. “They could have a certain percentage taken off of the books,” she said. “For me, we have kits that are $200, plus you buy equipment, plus you buy three plus textbooks and that really adds up, and you have to keep refuelling your supplies.”
In the 2014-2015 academic year, Ontario provided $1.3 billion in student loans and grants, helping over 380,000 students. There’s little evidence to suggest a decrease in these numbers, with the provincial government aiming to invest in public infrastructure and people’s talents and skills.
OSAP is likely to remain an integral part of financial aid for students in post-secondary education, with little to deter them away from the idea of money available to just about anyone who applies.
“Either way, if they did or didn’t change it I would still have to apply because I have no money to supply for school,” said Busia. Or as Lachemi put it, “Any little thing will help.”