TORONTO, April 27, 2017 – Students were pleased with many of the announcements in the newly released 2017 Ontario Budget: A Stronger, Healthier Ontario. Last year, Ontario’s plan to build the province up made landmark investments to student financial aid through the new Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), which will begin this fall and provide increased financial supports to over 230,000 Ontarian students. The 2017 budget continues to build on the principles that post-secondary education should be affordable, accessible, accountable, and of high-quality.
The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) specifically supports the announcements made to improving accessibility of work-integrated learning opportunities, as well as increasing access to post-secondary education for underrepresented groups and low-income students. Highlights of these investments include the province’s $190 million dollar investment into the new Career Kick-Start Strategy and further commitments to ensuring that student debt from OSAP is manageable after graduation.
OUSA participated in the consultations leading up to the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel report, Building the Workforce of Tomorrow: A Shared Responsibility, resulting in the inclusion of recommendations highlighting the important experience that experiential learning provides individuals entering the workforce. Today, OUSA proudly supports the budget’s confirmation of the province’s new Career Kick-Start Strategy. “We have continually been strong advocates for experiential learning,” says Jamie Cleary, President of OUSA. “Knowing the value of this type of learning for students, it is encouraging to see the government making an investment that will ease their transition from school to their future careers.”
Students believe that the government should be the main source of financial aid—lessening their reliance on part-time employment or private lenders. As such, OUSA is pleased to see the province’s continued commitment to making postsecondary education more affordable through the new OSAP by ensuring savings from Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) will not reduce the amount of OSAP received, as well as increasing the minimum salary an individual needs to earn before they start repaying the provincial portion of OSAP loans from $25,000 to $35,000. These are important steps to making postsecondary education more accessible and affordable for lower income families. “Repaying student loans can be difficult for many recent graduates, and in some cases, can deter students from attending post-secondary in the first place,” highlights Cleary. “We are pleased that the province has recognized this barrier by making loan repayments less burdensome to students struggling to find well-paying employment post-graduation.”
Students believe that marginalized youth should not encounter systemic barriers to post-secondary education. OUSA is pleased to see the province investing into the development of an anti-racism toolkit for postsecondary institutions and professional organizations to aid in building self-reflection and recognition of biases that can impact provision of services to Indigenous peoples. Similarly, OUSA supports the government’s decision to provide funding for the Ontario Black Youth Action Plan, which will help Black students access higher education through culturally focused outreach and work to ending disparities related to graduation rates, admission to postsecondary education, and youth unemployment rates.
Finally, students appreciate the province’s investment into key initiatives that will help more First Nation, Métis, and Inuit learners access high-quality postsecondary education and training opportunities. With the 2017 budget’s mandate Indigenous students will see increased specific OSAP supports and opportunities to receive aid from multiple sources. OUSA believes that these investments reflect broader intentions to improve reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and the development of a highly skilled workforce.
“Overall, we are thrilled to see continuing investment surrounding a theme of access for young individuals in Ontario,” says Cleary. “Whether this be students starting their post-secondary education path, or new graduates who are seeking employment, the 2017 Ontario Budget: A Stronger, Healthier Ontario will alleviate and resolve many of the barriers students face, allowing them to be prosperous and successful both during and after their post-secondary journey.”