In a historic move, the Ontario government said Thursday it will provide free tuition for college and university students from families with incomes of $50,000 or less.
It also plans to provide non-repayable grants to more than 50 per cent of students from families with annual incomes of $83,000 or less, a benefit that will well exceed the cost of average tuition, according to reports.
The changes to education funding were revealed during the budget address. The Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne said it is making the changes by overhauling the Ontario Tuition Grant program.
The average cost of tuition for universities in Ontario ranges from $5,000 to upwards of $11,000 per year, according to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
In the budget address, the government said its aim is to ensure that students from low-income families will graduate with no student debt, while simultaneously making tuition more affordable for middle-class families.
The changes to student funding were given cautious approval by Cormac McGee, vice-president of education for the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU).
“The concept for OSAP when it began was to target middle and low-income students, but what it has done over the years (is) end up helping higher-income students more than lower-income students,” he said.
“It’s obviously an improvement when you have students who aren’t graduating with any provincial debt, especially from low-income families.”
McGee attended the provincial budget reading, representing Ryerson as one of several student leaders from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
“The sticker price for education is out of reach for a lot of people,” McGee said. “The argument is always made that between grants and loans, people can make due, but it doesn’t work when your grant is coming in four months after you have to pay a sticker price of four, five, six, seven thousand dollars.”
McGee said the entire post-secondary education system as it functions today needs to be adjusted to directly meet the needs of students, especially low-income students.
While this is an important step in making education more accessible in Ontario, according to McGee there’s still a full mile to walk.
“It does make it more accessible, but it’s not the end. This is a work in progress, but it’s a good step.”
Reignite Ryerson organizer Vajdaan Tanveer agreed, saying this is an important step in making education more accessible in Ontario. But he said there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“We believe a more equitable system needs to be created, and I feel that this is the opportunity for the universities and administration to stand with students and to lobby with the province and the federal government to create even more access,” said Tanveer.
Reignite Ryerson is a group that has been advocating for a zero-fee tuition model since 2002. Last year, the group camped outside Jorgenson Hall in an effort to pressure Ryerson’s administration to freeze tuition fees.
Today, Tanveer said that efforts of student groups have finally paid off.
“We won a very small part of something that we wanted to achieve, and hopefully we will create more and more access as time continues.”
While students rejoice, the $133-billion spending plan will increase on commodities such as cigarettes, wine, and gas.
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced the deficit for 2015-2016 is down from a projected $8.5-billion to $5.7-billion. The deficit for next year is projected to be $4.3-billion before the province balances the books in 2017-2018. Sousa said in the address that this will be the last deficit.