Provincial lobby group outlines priorities
With the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) anticipating their provincial lobby conference at Queen’s Park in the upcoming weeks, their General Assembly held on the weekend of Nov. 4 allowed the member schools to outline the organization’s priorities. Three of OUSA’s policy papers — regarding student financial assistance, accessibility and international students — were re-evaluated and approved during the plenary session on Nov. 7.
“There’s a never ending stream of changes that could be made to improve [the Ontario Student Assistance Program] OSAP for students,” said Alexi White, executive director of OUSA. Last spring, the provincial government made several changes to the program, including doubling the in-study income exemption from $50 to $100 per week, however there are still shortfalls OUSA believes must be addressed.
“One is lowering the parental contributions,” White explained, noting that OSAP calculates a greater parental contribution requirement than the national student loan, leaving many students under funded. He added that OUSA’s policy on the student loan system is also advocating for a decrease in the interest rate currently set on the loans, from prime plus one to simply the prime interest rate which although seems insignificant would make a huge difference to a student repaying their loans years after they graduate.
Saad Aslam, who attended the conference along with four members of Laurier’s external affairs committee (EAC), said that one of the important issues that were addressed was in the accessibility paper that discussed providing more assistance to minority and first-generation students.
Aslam sees these students with the potential to contribute a new perspective to the post-secondary system. “Getting students here who are a diverse part of the population I think is a big thing because with their different life experiences,” he said.
Reaching out to prospective post-secondary students, as outlined in the policy paper, must begin to be tackled in the primary and secondary school systems. “Most students would have made up their mind whether they are going to [post-seconary education] or not before they even enter high school,” Aslam said, conveying some of the statistics that were researched in formulating OUSA’s policies.
In response to the provincial government’s decision to make international students a high priority at the release of the budget last spring, OUSA developed policy recommendations to ensure the quality and success of the education international students receive.
White explained that government must ensure that campuses have greater support services available to international students in order for them to adapt to life in Canada and excel in their academics. Furthermore, a tuition cap is required to prevent universities from charging international students more than the actual cost of their education, which subsequently is used to offset other costs of the university.
“Right now [international tuition] just whatever number the respective university wants to throw out there and that’s a problem because we’re not getting the best and brightest students, we’re getting those that can afford it to come here,” said Aslam.
As the provincial election is less than a year away, OUSA is acting strategically in presenting the needs of students to government. They are prioritizing items, such as the reallocation of tax credits for PSE to upfront grants, that were committed to by the current government but have yet to be instated.
Utilizing their upcoming lobby conference to present their ideas to different parties is also intended to gain positive responses in the long term, especially because it will be the last conference OUSA has prior to the election.
“All of the parties have gone in to their platform building mode right now,” said Aslam, “We’ve had consultations with most of them in terms of what we would like to see for post-secondary education students.”
Aslam expressed that OUSA would be diligent in following up with party officials to ensure that education remains a priority going in to the election.