By Raneem Alozzi and Sherina Harris
About a hundred students gathered Friday at Queen’s Park to rally against the Ontario government’s changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and rules surrounding student fees.
“We’re gathered outside of Queen’s Park to send a message to the Ford government and the minister of training, colleges and universities, Dr. [Merrilee] Fullerton, that students will not be fooled,” said Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) chairperson Nour Alideeb.
“This is a direct attack on the students and we will not stand for it,” said Alideeb.
The rally came as a result of the provincial government’s decision to make certain student ancillary fees non-essential and make sweeping changes to OSAP. The program will now require students with a family income under $50,000 to have a minimum of 10 per cent of their assistance in the form of loans. Under the previous structure, low-income students could receive 100 per cent grants.
Protesters braved the cold and chanted, “Student rights under attack, what do we do!? Stand up fight back!” and “If students don’t get it, shut it down!” They also waved flags bearing the names and logos of CUPE Ontario, Fight the Fees, Toronto Education Workers, Ontario Federation of Workers among others.
“When we heard that a lot of students might not be able to get access to financial aid, it really puts us as a union in a very tough spot,” said Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) president Ram Ganesh in an interview after the protest.
Ganesh said the future of the RSU’s existence is in question because of the possibility that students could opt out of fees to student groups.
“We’re dealing with that and at the same time there are students who are going to be forced to choose between paying their tuition or paying their rent and I don’t think any student is supposed to be in that situation,” he said.
The protest was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Ontario, which is having it’s Semi-Annual General Meeting (SAGM) this weekend. Attendants at the SAGM had the option to bus to the rally.
As part of the changes, the family income threshold has also been reduced. The grant cap for family income is set at $140,000, whereas the previous structure had a cap set at $175,000.
Changes to the so-called “grace period” were also made. Students will now be charged interest on their loans during the six months after they graduate.
“He’s essentially just putting back a lot of financial burdens on students,” said Susanne Nyaga, former RSU president who attended the rally as a graduate in support of communities that will be affected by the changes.
Nyaga said the decision was “ridiculous” and does not think it is “For the Students” as many student unions and organizations said they were not consulted. She added it’s hard for students to find jobs in their field immediately after graduating, so eliminating the grace period hurts students even after they leave school.
“I’m hopeful that students will show up and will continue to advocate for themselves and I’m hopeful that we’ll have some good politicians who will listen to our voices,” said Nyaga.