The Ontario Government has indicated on press materials released moments prior to the budget presented on March 29 that they intend to cut $121 million in post-secondary education funding, as well as increase tuition fees by an average of 5% province-wide. The exact programs and expenditure cuts have yet to be fully determined, however some details that have been released state that approximately $100 million of these cuts will be found through reduction and elimination of financial aid.

The funding that has been identified as being eliminated are the following:

  • Ontario Work-Study Program
  • Textbook and Technology Grant
  • Queen Elizabeth II Scholarship
  • Ontario Trust for Student Support
  • Ontario Special Bursary Program
  • Fellowship for Study in French Aird Scholarship
  • Sir John A MacDonald Scholarship
  • Ontario-Quebec Exchange Scholarship

The elimination of the Ontario Work-Study Program (OWSP) is expected to remove $250,000 a year from undergraduate students at Trent University. The program currently subsidises roughly 75% of the cost of employing a student on OSAP to work part-time during the school year. This allows students to make a maximum of approximately $2400 in the academic year, as well as providing invaluable work experience and contributions to student groups and the university. If the university administration simply cuts the amount of eligible positions, students should expect to see 167 less OWSP jobs on campus next year, a reduction of about 40%. Beyond affecting student’s finances it will also negatively impact those who employ students, who range from the university administration, academic departments, the library, and student groups and associations (Sadleir House, the Trent Central Student Association, Ontario Public Interest Research Group, amongst many others).

Tessa Nasca, the recently elected Trent Central Student Association Vice-President Student Issues, stated: This funding reduction will be devastating to students, the university, and community and student groups alike.” Students were promised during the election period by the Liberal Party that if elected they would prioritize education by making it more financially accessible to all students. In this budget, for every $1 of new financial aid, there is $1.20 of financial aid reductions.” Also in the budget was a one-year continuation of the “Reaching Higher Framework” which will see tuition fees increase by an average of 5% for all students. The framework provided stability to university administrations by allowing an increase to tuition fees by an average of 5% a year for the past 6 years. Across the province it has mockingly been called the “Reaching Higher Debt Framework” as tuition fees have increased by nearly 60% in the same time, and average debt upon graduation is now exceeding $30,000. Students across Ontario should expect another 5% tuition fee increase in the next month.

Across the country on February 1st, students took to the streets to pressure the provincial and federal governments to make financially accessible education a priority. Here in Peterborough, the TCSA organised a rally which brought some 200 students to Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal’s front door. At the rally MPP Leal stated “… this government is doing everything we can to make education affordable, but we have to remember we are in a time of constraint.” VP Student Issues Tessa Nasca remarked, “‘Constraint’ is coming at the cost of higher tuition fees, more debt, and elimination of some 167 student jobs in the Trent community. These students will continue to search for jobs out of necessity, adding to 9.6% unemployment rate in Peterborough, and potentially displacing other workers. It is clear to us as students that this government is not doing ‘everything it can’ to make education affordable.”

The TCSA is circulating a paper petition across the campus for those in opposition to this devastating blow to higher education.The TCSA hopes to present the petition to MPP Leal in the near future. This tuition fee increase will see our costs go up by at least $300 for domestic students and over $800 for international students. On top of that they want to take away our jobs?” It is our hope that the students of Trent will stand up and say ‘this is unacceptable’. We do not have very long to act as the budget will be voted on in the coming week.”, says Tessa Nasca. Students in Ontario currently owe more than $9 billion in debt to the provincial and federal governments. Rather than working towards reducing this debt, the proposed budget will see this number increase. When students have debt, they are less likely to contribute to the economy; instead of buying homes, cars, or starting families, they pay back debt.

Increasing tuition fees and eliminating scholarships is a recipe for disaster forOntario students,” says Sandy Hudson, Chairwoman of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. “This government has betrayed students for too long. We need the opposition parties to be strong advocates for an affordable, accessible post-secondary education system and demand changes to this budget.”  The funding cuts to OWSP jobs do not draw immediate implications for international students at Trent. Due to the urgency of the budget release, the Director of the Trent International Program was unable to comment on the implications of the budget on international students, or TIP job subsidies. TIP job subsidies are not funded through the same avenues as OWSP, however it is possible they will be affected. VP Student Issues Tessa Nasca stated, “the OWSP cuts might not impact international students, but the tuition fee increase definitely will. We are already expected to pay nearly three-times the tuition fees as our domestic peers.”