The changes to the way post-secondary student loans are handed out in Ontario are being felt this week.
On Tuesday, there was a flurry of tweets from angry students saying they have received estimates informing them they don’t qualify for or are getting less money from the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
The thousands of tweets made OSAP the number 1 trending topic in the Greater Toronto Area.
In January, the Ford government announced a number of changes for post-secondary students, including getting rid of free tuition for low-income students, making mandatory student fees optional and eliminating a six-month interest-free grace period after graduation for OSAP recipients.
One student wrote on Twitter: “I am receiving HALF the amount of #OSAP funding that I received last year. I’m nearly in tears, as I worry about being able to afford school this year.”
The Canadian Federation of Students Ontario responded to the tweets Wednesday with sharp criticism for the changes.
“Since January, students have drawn attention to the detrimental impacts of cuts to OSAP. Today students woke up to the horrific reality of these cuts,” said Felipe Nagata, the organization’s chairperson.
“The Ontario government cut $670 million from the OSAP program. While this time last year, over 220,000 students received the news that their OSAP would cover the full cost of their education, today many have had to re-evaluate their post-secondary education plans.”
WATCH: (March 20) Students across Ontario walk out of class in protest of proposed OSAP changes. Jamie Mauracher reports.
The government also previously announced a 10 per cent reduction in tuition, at the time calling the move the latest step in the government’s plan to keep more money in the pockets of Ontario students.
Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton responded to the trending topic in a statement Wednesday evening.
“Students and their families make great sacrifices to pursue post-secondary education,” Fullerton said. “This is why our government introduced an unprecedented 10 per cent reduction in college and university tuition fees.”
She added: “The auditor general’s 2018 report showed that OSAP expenses would increase to over $2 billion by next year. In order to address the previous government’s unsustainable spending, in January our government announced we are restoring financial sustainability to OSAP to ensure the program supports the students who need it the most for years to come.”
The opposition was quick to monopolize on the trending topic.
Michael Coteau, Liberal MPP for Don Valley East, said: “We’re seeing the reality of @fordnation & @DrFullertonMPP’s drastic cuts to #OSAP. The pre @OntLiberal govt made huge investments to lowering tuition by increasing OSAP grants because we believe that income shouldn’t dictate whether you go to college or uni.”
When asked in January by Global News about the reduction in OSAP for students, Fullerton said: “Students are adults and we will be treating them as adults … we are empowering them in the financing of their education.”
Under a new definition of “independent student,” the government will now assess parental income of those who have been out of high school for six years or less, rather than four years. Student groups argue the change in definition will disproportionately affect graduate students.