Consider the Hands That Write This Letter *

Students take up their pens in protest

700 letters and counting. The numbers are growing, the voices are getting louder, students should not be ignored.

This article began out of frustration when I realized that I am not eligible for independent student grants. Although this is my fifth year out of high school and my mother is retired, I am ineligible because the limit has changed to six years. I tried to drum up indignation in my classmates only to discover most of them don’t use the Ontario Student Assistance Program. In fact, my tirade was cut short when someone pointed out that tuition had been cut by 10% this year.

In a faculty where tuition for four months exceeds what students in every other faculty pay for eight months, a lot of engineering students welcomed the 10% reduction in tuition by the Ford government. When we can make money between terms, it’s much easier to see why people in our faculty might be less reliant on OSAP to pay for school. But you actually might be missing out on savings you could have had.

WUSA VP Education Matt Gerrits has broken the numbers down so we don’t have to. Engineering students likely will save approximately $1,400 in tuition this academic year. Students in upper to middle income families ($100-170k per year) will receive a reduction of $1,500 to $5,400 in OSAP grants and loans, leaving even those who don’t necessarily need it at a loss of $500-1,400 for the year. This doesn’t even consider the low-income groups. In fact, changes to OSAP repayment mean that students now have even less time to repay their loans than they did before – only 6 weeks out of school and already you need to be able to come up with enough money to cover your entire student debt. You’d better hope for one hell of a signing bonus!

The other side of the problem is that there are a huge number of people for whom the 2019 changes to OSAP caused far more harm than a 10% off coupon could remedy. Apathy because an issue doesn’t concern you the most is also not helping. In 2017, the former Liberal government made updates to OSAP that included “free” tuition for low-income students, meaning some students without other access to funding for education received grant money to cover the cost of their yearly tuition. Some people might call this socialism, while others might call it trying to break the cycle of poverty. I might be biased so you should make your own conclusions.

I don’t have time to get into how much “reduced tuition” harmed the other half of students at this school. Suffice it to say that some international students saw their tuition increase by 62.1%, which is allowed because there are no caps for raising international fees.

Are you feeling hopeless? Are you feeling helpless? Well don’t, feel empowered because we are allowed to make ourselves heard! Giving students a voice is exactly what the OSAP Letter-Writing Campaign is all about. The campaign was started by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) in accordance with their policy on financial aid. Matt Gerrits described the goal “to make politicians aware of the experiences that students in Ontario are going through”, with an aim to reinstate funding. The campaign, which can be found at ousa.ca/signtheletter gives students a direct avenue to contact their local MPP – the more students from across the province participate, the more MPPs will be aware of their constituents’ concerns.

Often it may feel like students are political pawns, but we don’t need to accept political strategies if we don’t like them. If you feel affected by this change or you know someone who has been, sign the letter, have your friends take a few minutes out of their day to sign it too. It literally took me less than 3 minutes to sign, and that’s because I included a personal story; if you choose not to, it will take you less than 1! You could do it in class, on the toilet, eating your toast, I don’t judge, but if you care then it’s important to let your representatives know that you are engaged. Don’t forget, we are the future and politicians need to take us into account.

*Title inspired by the poem by Aracelis Germay

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