THUNDER BAY – While a Lakehead University student leader has no problem with the provincial government’s decision to cut tuition fees, the overhaul of the student assistance program and potential opting out of student fees has him very concerned.
The Progressive Conservative government on Thursday announced they would be slashing tuition at Ontario postsecondary institutions by 10 per cent, the first ever reduction of the rates in the province’s history.
That lowered tuition comes along with the elimination of the free tuition program for low-income students through the Ontario Student Assistance Program that was a crowning achievement of the previous Liberal regime, which had increased the number of non-repayable grants in place of loans.
Lakehead University Student Union acting president Farhan Yousaf on Friday pointed to the elimination of the six-month grace period after graduation before student loans had to start being repaid and lack of action on tuition for international students as being worrisome.
“If it was just a 10 per cent cut on tuition fees, that’s great news. But with all of these other things attached to it, I think it is definitely going to affect the students and it’s going to affect the institution too,” Yousaf said.
“They’re going to have to compromise on some of the services and could compromise the quality of education they offer.”
Third-year mechanical engineering student William Montoya receives OSAP and was disappointed when he heard the news.
“It makes a huge difference,” Montoya said, adding he doesn’t rely on parental support. “OSAP pays a huge part of my tuition and also my cost of living is helped by OSAP. Now with what they’re doing now, it’s going to be very tough.”
Yousaf said the Lakehead student union was not consulted about the changes.
Emily Tella, a third-year kinesiology student, doesn’t believe that was the right thing to do.
“It’s not really fair that the government is making plans without consulting university students,” she said.
Sean Murphy, a second-year student studying chemistry, is worried about the elimination of the head start to start repaying his loans after graduation.
“It’s hard to hear because the six-month grace period that had been initially been offered by the government to repay that student loan is very beneficial and taking that away would really cause some issues for me financially,” Murphy said.
The government, through Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton, also announced it would be launching a Student Choice Initiative that would allow students to opt out of paying certain fees which had previously been compulsory, though it said fees for health and wellness programs would remain mandatory.
Yousaf, who said he doesn’t know who will make the decision about which fees are deemed essential and which will be optional, pointed to programs and services like the student food bank, gender equity centre and Pride Central that could be impacted.
“These are sort of the first contact base for students if they’re going through something,” Yousaf said. “All of these services could very well be affected. That’s something we have to look into and I think the next couple of months are going to be very important for all parties.”
Yousaf added initiatives that collect small fees, such as the student refugee program that costs each member of the student population just $7 per year, could also suffer.
Both Lakehead University and Confederation College, through separate statements on Thursday, indicated the tuition cuts will present challenges but expressed satisfaction with the government's commitment to maintain operating grants and establish a separate fund for northern institutions.