More than 250 Queen’s University students braved frigid temperatures on Tuesday to sound off about the recently announced changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program, or OSAP.
Last week, the Ontario government promised a 10 per cent tuition drop for post-secondary students, but along with that announcement came a decision to eliminate parts of OSAP. The service, provided by the provincial government, helps students shoulder the massive costs associated with a post-secondary education.
“I think that it’s really important that the Ford government sees that students are a force to be reckoned with,” said Lucas Borchenko, co-organizer of the protest.
The OSAP overhaul will see vital parts of the assistance program taken away from students, including the elimination of grants and an interest-free grace period after graduation. The cuts mean those students who fall into a low income bracket are most likely to feel the effects of these changes.
“I was included in that group that would be receiving the free tuition,” said Samantha Hartmann, who helped co-organize the protest.
Hartmann knows first-hand how people will be affected by the OSAP changes. Her family suffered the loss of her father when she was just nine years old, and OSAP was able to help her.
“The government is supposed to be working for all its people, and it kind of seems to be focused on a certain demographic of people that doesn’t include students,” she said.
Local councillors and former Liberal MPP Steven Del Duca were also there. Del Duca tells Global News that education funding isn’t where the government should be looking to save money.
“(There’s) nothing wrong with being responsible when it comes to the budget, but how the government tries to balance the books tells you what it values — and who it values,” he said.
At the protest, one noticeable sight was the number of red felt squares that students were wearing. These have been worn since students began protesting tuition hikes back in 2013. The squares are a visual reminder of students wanting to stand squarely in the red.
Another element brought to the protest was varied and creative signs, describing some of the students’ plight.
Hartmann says if they don’t speak up now, other students will suffer.
“This is not what we deserve, and we definitely need to keep going,” she said.