Ontario student loan debt averages $28,000. The provincial government’s response has been the passing of its most recent budget in February, 2016, which announced that post-secondary tuition will be covered by grants for over 150,000 Ontario students.
According to Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Development Deb Matthews, “…removing the financial barriers really gives hope and opportunity to tens of thousands of young people who previously thought they just couldn’t go.”
The petition makes a simple request, “Forgive Our OSAP Loans.”
However, there has been ongoing controversy surrounding their radical transformation of the OSAP student loan program. While the provincial government’s grant program improves access for lower-income families, there is not enough being done to combat student debt for the rest of Ontario’s students.
Recently, the Liberal government has been made to hear the cries of graduates who are still saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt—and who feel the new program has done nothing to help them.
Ahmad Moussaoui, a 26-year old graduate from Windsor, Ont. started an online petition that he hoped would help his fellow Ontarians who were overlooked by the roll out of the Ontario Student Grant. The petition makes a simple request, “Forgive Our OSAP Loans.”
We had a chance to chat with Moussaoui about the reasons for this petition and the progress he’s made so far. His main goal, he told SLN, is to see debt forgiveness for graduates, or at the very least, interest-free loans.
According to Moussaoui, the Ontario NDP has been the only party to take his petition seriously.
Moussaoui has been working with the NDP to make student loan debt a major issue for the current government. This has included the development of a new website, where students and graduates are invited to share how student debt has affected their lives. According to Moussaoui, the Ontario NDP has been the only party to take his petition seriously.
When asked about the new website, Moussaoui disclosed that, “The website is kind of a Plan B type of a thing right now, whereas Plan A is actually being presented as a formal petition where the government is going to have to answer. And if things don’t go our way, if we don’t get any type of debt relief, then Plan B is to keep up pressure using that website, and to hopefully make it a major issue in the next elections.”
Minister Matthews explained that she is aware of the petition—which now has over 60,000 signatures—but at this point in time, the government’s focus is on access. “By removing the financial barriers it really gives hope and opportunity to tens of thousands of young people who previously thought they just couldn’t go.” she said.
Matthews also asserted that, “…on average, eliminating the interest would save the average borrower $73 a year, $6.11 a month,” on their provincial student loans. In the grand scheme of things this isn’t much, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction.
Minister Matthews told SLN that employment after graduation is part of the problem, and the Liberal government has been working to “further expand opportunities in employment.”
As far as what all these changes mean for the rest of Canada, Matthews told us she thinks that the idea may be spreading: “…we are getting lots of interest from other provinces in learning how we were able to do this. New Brunswick has introduced something, it’s not the same as ours, but I think it’s sort of reflective of a new focus on how we best support access for all students.”
While the new grant program could mitigate financial struggles for incoming students, there are still tens of thousands of graduates struggling to pay off their loans.
It seems clear that the government’s focus right now is on access and creating equal opportunities for all students. While the new grant program is likely to mitigate financial struggles for incoming students, there are still tens of thousands of graduates struggling to pay off their loans. For Moussaoui and the 60,000 students who signed his petition, there’s still a lot more work to be done.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.