OSAP applications up 18 per cent
This August, student unemployment reached a staggering 16.4 per cent according to Statistics Canada. In direct correlation to this, applications to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) for the fall semester have reportedly increased by 18 per cent from last year.
“This is clearly a signal that more and more students are in need of financial assistance to attend post-secondary education,” said Dan Moulton, president of the Ontario University Students’ Association (OUSA), a provincial advocacy group representing the needs of undergraduate students.
For OUSA, the structure in which OSAP provides loans to students is a cause of growing concern in light of the increase in applicants this year.
“Right now when OSAP does the calculation for how much a student’s need is, it accounts for your summer earnings and expects a student to earn a minimum amount of $2710,” said Moulton.
With the assumption that a student are able to contribute $2710 following a summer of employment, OSAP automatically deducts that amount from their loan allocation whether or not that income is actually earned.
To make more funds available to students, OUSA is pressuring the provincial government to amend their method of calculating loans.
“We’re asking that they completely remove from their funding formula that minimum amount taken off for summer employment because of the number of students we’re seeing unemployed this year,” said Moulton.
The increase in OSAP applications has also been seen at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“We’ve seen an increase of about 20 per cent from last year, which is pretty substantial,” said Laurier’s registrar Ray Darling.
Darling expressed that the method of calculating the loan allocations is a great cause for concern. In addition to the assumed student income for summer employment, OSAP takes into account their parent’s income.
“A big change they made here a number of years ago was that you had to list your parents’ income for five years instead of four, which immediately started impacting graduate students in their first year,” explained Darling.
“We all know that the reality is that even though your parents may have some money or some assets, they don’t always necessarily free them up for you as a student,” he added.
At Laurier, bursaries are also an option for students in financial need.
“We require students to apply for OSAP to get a bursary even if they don’t end up qualifying for it, because the formula we use is a little bit more beneficial to students,” explained Darling. “We’re not strict; we have some more flexibility with it.”
The method of calculating loans is a problem that also exists in the National Student Loan system that affects students across the country.
“They expect you to contribute a certain portion of your summer income; it’s around $1500 to $2500, depending on what province you’re in,” said Arati Sharma, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), a federal advocacy group consisting of student alliances and unions from post-secondary institutions in Canada.
According to CASA, students across the country are graduating with an increasing amount of debt. 59 per cent of university students on average now graduate with a $25,000 debt.
That debt is much higher in Maritime provinces, where 66 per cent of university students graduate with $29,000 of debt.
“In the long term, we need the government to change the way they evaluate student financial assistance,” said Sharma.