September 26, 2011

Where do they stand?

Provincial parties and post-secondary education

Michael Snoddon

Students are a busy folk – class, readings, pub nights, and working four jobs.

The majority of us simply do not have time to sit down and figure out what each of the provincial parties are saying or promising during an election campaign. It is designed that way; if the youth don’t know, they won’t vote.

Sky-high tuition fees? Crumbling university and college buildings? A fancy piece of paper and no real jobs? This is where your lives get much simpler.

Below you will find a break-down, party by party, on what the leaders are saying, promising, and pledging on higher learning as developed by student unions across the province.

Remember, these are our schools, this is our future, and this is our money. We have the chance to finally take it over and make our voice count.

The official party stances on issues covering education are below with my comments in italics.

Green Party of Ontario

Tuition Fees — The GPO has committed to freezing tuition fees, then increasing fees at the rate of inflation. However, the party has not outlined a funding formula for our schools to deliver quality education with a capped budget. Forcing our schools to cut back on services, programs or faculty support.

OSAP and Debt — There are no plans within the GPO to address the $7 billion in student debt owed by students to the Ontario Government or to address that per student funding is the lowest in the country.

Student Rights — Promises to make public transit more accessible to college and university students, a Bill of Rights for students living in residence. However, there are no plans to extend OHIP to international students.

Ontario Liberal Party

Tuition Fees — The OLP promise to create a grant of $1,600 for undergraduate students, as long as their family makes a combined income of less than $160,000. This grant will not be available to graduate students, international students, part-time students, and full-time undergraduate students in professional programs (Education, Law or Med). The interesting part – the OLP is calling this a tuition fee reduction of 30%, but since 2006, tuition has gone up on average 59%. You do the math. Oh, and the Liberals will not say that tuition won’t go up. They are waiting until after the election.

OSAP and Debt — No changes to OSAP except for the extension of the interest-free period for OSAP loans – from six months to 12 months after graduation – for people who work for not-for- profit organizations after they graduate.

Ontario New Democratic Party

Tuition Fees — The NDP have promised to implement a province- wide freeze on tuition fees for college, undergraduate and graduate students. However, the party has not outlined a funding formula for our schools to deliver quality education with a capped budget. The NDP, like all parties, do not outline a strategy for international student tuition fees, which are deregulated.

OSAP and Debt — Promises of expanding OSAP eligibility to part-time students on the basis of need, and to prohibit institutions from charging late fees or interest on payments for students who receive OSAP loans to pay their tuition fees. Also, eliminating interest on the provincial portion of OSAP. This still does not address the amount of debt students will be carrying post-graduation.

Student Rights — A re-introduction on a bill to support student unions on campus and promises to make public transit more accessible to college and university students, a Bill of Rights for students living in residence. However, there are no plans to extend OHIP to international students.

Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario

Tuition Fees — The PCO platform makes no mention of tuition fees. However, like the Liberals, an announcement of 60,000 new student spaces across the province to increase enrollment and class sizes.

OSAP and Debt — A promise to raise the parental income benchmark for Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) eligibility. It is unclear whether this means that more students from middle-income families would have access to grants or simply more student debt. The PCO would also reverse a $30 million grant to international students who pay 3-7 times more than domestic students. Interesting fact: the leader of the PCO received a full international student scholarship to University of Washington.

Remember, on Wednesday night between 6 and 10 at The Study Coffeehouse, there will be an all-candidates open-mic. If you have more questions or comments on what politicians can do to make university and college in Ontario stronger, more affordable, and more accessible – come out and share.

Michael Snoddon is the president of Lakehead University Student Union. He can be reached at president@lusu.ca.

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