Lobby group announces student priorities

In preparation for the release of the provincial budget, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) put forth its key priorities for the 2011 year last Monday afternoon.

OUSA president Meaghan Coker presented the students’ recommendations to Ontario’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, with the priorities broken down into three main areas: access to post-secondary education, investing in universities and increasing student success.

“When we make our decisions for the year we’re able to identify which priorities we think are the most important and time and time again financial accessibility and improving the [Ontario Students’ Assistance Program (OSAP)] and grant systems,” said Coker. “One of our priorities that we like to focus on is the fulfillment of the Liberal Party’s platform commitment to reallocating tax credits.”

In the Liberal Party’s 2007 platform, they committed to restructuring the tax credit system for parents with children in university. Currently, the tax credit system is of much more benefit to families of higher incomes, something that OUSA believes is clearly backwards.

“People with higher incomes can receive a credit of $2,000, while someone with a lower income receive $520,” said Coker. “It’s a large amount of money the government’s investing, but right now it’s not being as effective as it should be… We obviously think it should go to the families that really need it.”

According to Coker, the Ontario government currently invests $330 million into financial assistance programs; however, the money is not being utilized properly. In addition to rearranging the current setup of the tax credit system, OUSA is also proposing ways of more effectively using the money to aid students.

Some alternatives proposed by OUSA include: investing in upfront grants as opposed to tax credits, performing a tuition freeze and aligning parental contribution restrictions when it comes to OSAP.

“It’s just redistributing the money so it’s more effective than it is now,” said Coker. “There are a lot of students who get shut out of OSAP because their parents make too much money, but a lot of them still really need it. If we change the parental contribution we can open the access to OSAP for those in a middle-income situation.”

In addition to improving students’ financial assistance program, OUSA is proposing a greater financial investment from the provincial government in universities as a whole.

“Ontario is unfortunately sitting in a situation where we are paying more in tuition fees than any other province and the government is also contributing less per student than in any other province” said Coker. “The students are paying more and the province is paying less.”

Whether or not these students’ priorities will become a reality will be seen in March when the Ontario government releases its annual budget.