The architect of the free tuition grants under the Ontario Student Assistance Program says the recent changes will hurt students and the province in the long run.
Kathleen Wynne, the former Liberal premier and current MPP for Don Valley West, said she was upset by the changes announced by the Conservative Doug Ford government.
“I’m very disappointed that the Ford government has chosen to reverse that investment, [and] they don’t see the economic benefit in having a highly educated workforce that can compete with anyone in the globe,” she told Et Cetera.
Wynne said the changes will benefit the wealthiest students and harm students from low middle- and lower-income families.
The Conservative plan also calls for a 10 per cent reduction in tuition with a freeze planned for 2020. The government built the changes on the 2018 report by the Ontario Auditor General that cost of Wynne’s OSAP plan was to be more than $2 billion by 2020-2021.
The former premier said she was concerned with how post-secondary institutions will make up that difference in tuition cuts, saying it will be the smaller schools that will have the most difficulty.
“That could mean there will be higher class sizes [and] it could mean that there will be less access for students to professors,” Wynne said.
She said students have expressed concerns to her about the loss of the six-month interest free grace period.
Wynne said she was told that grace period allowed students “to get an internship and then find a job in the field that they were trained to work in.”
She said the government doesn’t seem to understand the nature of the workforce and the labour market by implementing these changes.
“I think it puts undue pressure on young people to take any job as opposed to just giving them a bit of a buffer so that they can get into the work that they’re trained for,” said Wynne, who was premier between 2013 and 2018.
She also said changing financial needs may force institutions to make up the funding difference through international students, whose tuition costs are not affected by the cuts.
“I’ve always had a problem with international students being the cash cow for colleges and universities,” Wynne said.
While she welcomes a robust population of international students in Ontario, Wynne said their fees should not be a substitute for adequate funding for post-secondary institutions.
Wynne called the Ford government’s claims to the necessity of these changes farcical.
“They haven’t listened to the students who have benefited the most from these changes,” she said.
The former Liberal government carried out extensive consultations before implementing the old system, which the Ford government has failed to do, Wynne said.
Wynne also described the Student Choice Initiative, where students would be allowed to opt out of certain non-essential student fees, as dangerous.
“This change is much more ideological and I think that it is designed to take any political expression out of student activities on campus.” she said, calling them short-sighted.
The fees often funded student unions, clubs and newspapers, which allows a full range of views to be expressed on campus, said Wynne.
Wynne also had advice for students wishing to fight against these cuts. Since their announcement, opponents of the changes have staged rallies and protests across the province.
“I would encourage students in every corner of the province to go to their MPPs’ offices … and explain why this is a bad idea,” she said.
By going to meet their MPPs in person, Conservative MPPs will know exactly the impact the changes will have on everyday Ontarians, Wynne said.
“Make sure that Conservative MMPs have to put a face to the decision that they have made around cutting these student support systems,” she said.
Wynne said she will do all she can to fight these changes and raise her concerns with her colleagues in the legislature.
“I’m planning to reach out to various campuses in the spring and I will be seeking out student groups to talk with them and help them strategize about what they can do next,” she said.