Post-secondary students across Ontario walked out of their classes on Wednesday in protest of the Ford government’s changes to OSAP.
Walkouts began at noon on at least 17 different campuses across the province.
The walkout was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), which is demanding that the provincial government provide more student grants, increase funding for public education and even eliminate tuition fees for all students.
“Join students from across the province in a walk out on Wednesday, March 20 at 12 p.m. to demonstrate to the Ontario government that we will not tolerate their attacks on students,” CFS said on Facebook.
At Ryerson University in Toronto, hundreds of students walked out of their classes to protest and signed a petition calling on the provincial government to reverse the changes it announced about two months ago.
“We’re here to fight. We’re here to get that money back for students,” Jausan Baskararajh, a biomedical science student at Ryerson. “The reason why I was even able to afford here and get an education was because of OSAP.”
Students chanted, “The students, united will never be defeated,” which has become a staple slogan in their protests against the Ford government.
“I just think that the accessibility of education is super important and there are so many students out there who need this and who need the funding from the government to help them get here,” said Taylor Palmer, a second-year psychology student. “Why would you want to stand in the way of people learning?”
Elsewhere in the province, walkouts occurred at a number of other post-secondary institutions including the University of Toronto, York University, Carleton University, Trent University, Seneca College and George Brown College.
The Ford government announced the changes to the previous Liberal government’s OSAP plan on Jan. 17 in an attempt to trim the province’s multi-billion-dollar deficit.
One of the changes included the elimination of free tuition for low-income students, a program the auditor-general warned would potentially cost the province $2 billion annually by 2020-21. With the new plan, a portion of the money that low-income students receive will be loans.
WATCH: Ontario government announces changes to OSAP
Under the previous Liberal plan, families earning up to $175,000 could qualify for some funding, but the PCs have also lowered that threshold to $140,000, with most of the grants going to those families whose income is less than $50,000 per year.
“The previous government believed in handing out OSAP funding to some of Ontario’s highest income earners rather than focus student grants to those individuals who needed it the most,” Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrlee Fullerton said at the time of the announcement.
With the changes also comes the elimination of a six-month, interest-free grace period that students had to pay back their loans following graduation.
The government also announced that it would be cutting tuition fees by 10 per cent and implementing an option to opt out of some ancillary fees.
Those changes are expected to result in an estimated loss of $360 million for universities and $80 million for colleges.
There have been numerous student protests against the OSAP changes since they were announced, including an incident where procedures were interrupted in the legislature when students shouted obscenities at Premier Ford.
WATCH: Students protest OSAP changes at Queen’s Park
— With files from Travis Dhanraj and The Canadian Press