Fanshawe community protests OSAP changes
Fanshawe students organized a protest against the new Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) framework at Victoria Park on Jan. 25.
Around a hundred local students, politicians, union representatives and supporters braved frigid cold temperatures to meet at Victoria Park on Jan. 25. Their protest coincided with another at Queen's Park, where hundreds of Ontario students rallied to criticize the new framework.
“They are cutting grants, and they're getting rid of the free tuition for people under $50,000 a year and it does feel like an attack on the student body and on the youth of Ontario,” said Cassandra Chapman, a Fanshawe student who helped to organize the Victoria Park protest. “It's hard to not want to demonstrate and it's hard to not want to be passionate about something that really does not only affect you, but everyone else around you as well.”
Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, announced on Jan. 17 that OSAP will no longer offer free tuition to students from low-income families, and will no longer have a six-month interest-free grace period.
Independent students are now defined as being out of school for six years, instead of four, and the minimum income threshold for repayment assistance will remain at $25,000 gross, cancelling the former Liberal government's plan of increasing it to $35,000.
The government also created a new Student Choice Initiative, which allows students to opt out of non-essential non-tuition ancillary fees.
Many college and university students have been quick to reject the changes since the announcement, saying it will make post-secondary education less accessible to future students, and impede the chances of finding financial stability after graduation.
“Removal of the six-month grace period is going to affect so many students graduating,” said Katherine Marentette, a student enrolled in Fanshawe's early childhood education program. “I highly doubt once they're right at the end, they're going to have exams, they're going to be focusing on that, and getting good grades, just getting it done; they're not going to be looking for a job.”
At the London protest, Terence Kernaghan, New Democratic Party (NDP) MPP for London North Centre, encouraged attendees to add Premier Doug Ford's publicly available cellphone number into their phones and communicate their concerns directly.
Teresa Armstrong, NDP MPP for London-Fanshawe, was also present, and said she hoped students would persist in expressing their opinions.
“I hope these protests will continue. Myself and my office, we're going to have a townhall at Fanshawe where [the] students are,” Armstrong said. “We want to know what they're feeling, and what messages they want us to take back to this government […] they need to turn the clock back and listen to what students are telling them before they make their policies.”
On Jan. 29, the FSU, along with over 75 other student unions from across the country, signed a letter addressed to Ford and Fullerton speaking out against the changes. The letter said that the new OSAP framework and the Student Choice Initiative were announced without any proper consultation, and threatened long-term economic development.
The letter asked the provincial government to reverse the decision implementing the Student Choice Initiative until it had consulted with student groups as well as administrations, labour groups and business networks.
“I implore the Ontario provincial government to consider that student unions and associations be determined to be an essential service in regards to the Student Choice Initiative, said Jahmoyia Smith, Fanshawe Student Union president, in a Jan. 29 statement. “Our work on behalf of students is important and impactful and enhances the student experience at Fanshawe College.”
An open letter to Premier Ford and Minister Fullerton from 75+ student associations can be found at s3.documentcloud.org/documents/5700020/Students-Choice-National-Letter.pdf