In a white paper released earlier this month, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives took aim at the Ontario Liberal government’s “30% Off Ontario Tuition” grant, among other initiatives in the post-secondary sector.
A chief concern that has been raised about the grant is that only about 200,000 students received it last year. That is about two-thirds of eligible students and one-third of all post-secondary students.
To give students more time to apply this year, the deadline was extended from the end of January to Friday, March 1.
Launched in 2012, the grant offers 30 per cent off the average tuition for university and college to lower-middle income students. The Ontario government has set aside about $400 million for the program per year.
It is estimated that 300,000 students are eligible for the grant. However, many students are either unaware that it exists, or unaware that they do not need to receive OSAP in order to apply for the grant.
The PCs “Higher Learning for Better Jobs” paper argues that the Ontario Liberals have been spending public money on the program to “fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”
“The Ontario Tuition Grant can thus simply be summed as an idea sold as a benefit to all students, when only a fraction receive it,” reads the paper.
In lieu of the grant, universities and colleges should be “empowered to administer a student financial aid system that grows as tuition increases,” according to the PCs.
The paper also cites a briefing note from the Canadian Federation of Students: “Students are concerned that the Liberal tuition fee grant excludes two-thirds of students in Ontario.”
Ontario’s new Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Brad Duguid, said axing the program is “unacceptable” and expressed concerns about a two-tiered education system.
“We think that is economically irresponsible, and I consider it to be socially reprehensible,” said Duguid.
He added that the PCs’ proposal to end the grant could have repercussions for several groups, including lower-income students, aboriginal students, student-athletes and students with disabilities.
Duguid took over from MPP John Milloy earlier this February.
Duguid confirmed that the number of students who have received the 30 off grant so far this year surpassed last year’s number.
The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) supports the 30 off grant, but has recommended that the Ministry expand eligibility requirements and change the tuition framework.
OUSA has argued that adjusting the grant to inflation is not enough, since tuition rates are rising at a faster rate than inflation.
“In nine years, though the value of the grant will grow to over $2,000 annually per-student, eligible students will be paying exactly what they pay today,” according to an OUSA policy paper released in 2012.
“I understand the concern, but we haven’t set the tuition framework yet for the next number of years,” said Duguid. “I’ll certainly be taking the students’ views under consideration as we work with post-secondary institutions as well to set an acceptable tuition rate.”
Duguid said a new tuition framework would be announced “fairly soon.”
“As a new minister, I want to reach out a little more before we make any final decisions,” he said.