The protests are in response to the government’s cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Students are also calling on the government to cut rising tuition costs and high interest loan fees, as well as the elimination of all student debt.
York students said in a press release they are calling on the provincial government to “uphold students’ right to organize and improve access to post-secondary education.”
The release said over 10,000 York students have signed petitions in response to the cuts, which were announced on Jan. 17.
At the time, the Ford government said the changes to OSAP were to help trim the province’s multi-billion-dollar deficit left by the former Liberal government.
Under the previous Liberal plan, families earning up to $175,000 could qualify for some funding, but the PCs lowered that threshold to $140,000, with most of the grants going to those families whose income is less than $50,000 per year.
With the changes also came 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.
“These cuts to our education are an attempt to further privatize our colleges and universities and defund our student organizations,” said Jasmine Hawamdeh of the York Federation of Students (YFS). “As students we are pushing back and resisting these changes for current and future students.”
In similar fashion, Ryerson students set up picket lines at the student centre on Yonge Street on Wednesday. There is also a march scheduled by demonstrators to Yonge-Dundas Square.
“Students are being forced to postpone their graduation, or to put their graduation on hold indefinitely” said Nicole Brayiannis, president of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson. “Ryerson students are experiencing a loss of OSAP grant funding, and have less options for financial support on campus.”
For fifth-year Ryerson student Hermes Azam, he told Global News the changes to OSAP have affected his entire family.
“Collectively we have all used OSAP. We have something like $100 thousand in OSAP loans,” he said. “We need free tuition … free tuition for all domestic and immigrant students.
However, Ross Romano, from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, said the OSAP program wasn’t “sustainable.”
“We were in a situation where we were – looking down in time – where there realistically wouldn’t be OSAP for students.”
While the Ontario NDP agree the program required some change, deputy leader Sarah Singh said that the students shouldn’t be punished.
“We can agree that perhaps the program could have some room for improvement but I don’t think that we should be putting that on the backs of students,” she said.
Students at OCAD University also set up a similar demonstration.
In March, students across the province from at least 17 different campuses held walk-outs in the wake of the Ford government announcing its cuts to post-secondary education.
The walkout was planned by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
—With files from Ryan Rocca