On Mar. 28, the Ontario Liberal government announced their final provincial budget before the upcoming general election on June 7.
Following the announcement, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the budget would focus on “care and opportunity.”
As he delivered the budget speech to the Ontario Legislature, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa quoted former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden. “Show me your budget,” he said, “and I’ll tell you what you value.” The meaning of the quote quickly became clear – it proposed ambitious funding programs targeting a broad range of Ontarians, from Francophone and Indigenous communities to seniors, children, and finally: students.
The announcement of the 2018 budget met with some criticism due to the projected deficit, but if all goes as promised, there could be some major perks for Ontario’s students.
1. Mental Health Matters
The 2018 Ontario budget is taking huge steps to make mental health and addictions services more accessible. During his announcement to the Ontario legislature, Sousa said the investment will be the largest in Ontario’s history.
A sizable chunk of the budget will be allocated to students.
Along with $175 million over four years to expand mental health services in public schools, the 2018 budget is promising almost $12 million over four years to hire mental health workers at Ontario’s colleges and universities. This will be on top of the $6 million yearly commitment last year’s budget made to expand post-secondary mental health services across the province. They are also improving accessibility to psychotherapy for up to 350,000 more people suffering from anxiety and depression.
Western University’s Student Council Vice-President, Landon Tulk, said students have long been asking for better mental health supports before and during their university careers. Scott Wilson, Western’s Advocacy Co-ordinator, also supported the announcement:
Mental Health MATTERS on campus. Amazing work by OUSA, Student Leaders and the Government on a plan that will change campuses across Ontario. Today, our goal to #EndtheStigma is within reach and that is something that should be celebrated. https://t.co/wUEx2fxD7i
— Scott Wilson (@scott3412) March 22, 2018
A news release by the Canadian Federation of Students said that although students are excited the new budget will create more mental health supports for Indigenous and Francophone communities, it failed to mention any funding for existing counselling and peer support services on campuses.
“The expansion of community mental health services in the province presents a step in the right direction,” said Sami Pritchard, the National Executive Representative of the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario.
2. Financial Aid Improvements
Every student can probably agree that one of the most stressful things about pursuing post-secondary education is the thought of impending debt, especially as graduation creeps closer. Nothing puts a damper on the excitement of graduating like the looming repayment of your student loans. Now, the Ontario government says repaying your loans will be easier than ever.
Students and educators alike took to Twitter following the budget announcement, with reactions ranging from excitement to relief:
— Tim Hewitson 🏳️🌈 (@ITeachTimmy) March 28, 2018
Hoping to see some relief for the hundreds of thousands of indebted students in the #ontariobudget2018
— Aaron Cayden Hiltz (@AaronCayden) March 28, 2018
To register for this event visit https://t.co/zW7TngBQkj
An opportunity to learn more how the Provincial Budget will impact Small Business, as well as, any personal impact.
You will also be given the opportunity to ask questions directly to your Scarborough MPPs. pic.twitter.com/t4AljiXoXL
— Viresh Mathur (@Viresh1) March 23, 2018
The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) had its biggest ever restructuring in 2016. However, a 3.1 percent tuition hike for undergrad programs at Canadian universities in 2017 didn’t exactly ease the burden for Ontario’s students. The province remains on top for average tuition costs in Canada.
The burden is heavier still for international students, who face high-interest fees when they choose to study here.
According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian university student is still looking at up to $26,000 in debt upon graduation.
This year, the Ontario government has promised to make OSAP more accessible to students, namely middle-income families. Students whose parents make up to $90,000 a year could now be eligible for free tuition. This means parents will be expected to contribute less to their children’s education. Married students will also benefit, as fewer expected spousal contributions could make them eligible for larger grants. They have also introduced net tuition billing. Students will get a single bill from their school that has already subtracted the amount of grant funding they received from OSAP.
3. Better Equipment And Tech For Colleges
The 2018 budget promises an increase in funding for college material spending. Ontario’s colleges will receive $20 million a year over the next three years; quite a jump from the current level of $8 million per year. This will go toward new equipment for classrooms, labs and even administrative spaces to keep up with the constantly-evolving technology students and faculty are using in their programs.
Before the budget was announced, Colleges Ontario submitted a report pointing out that many of the province’s colleges were built in the mid-1960’s and lack the digital infrastructure they need to stay up-to-date with today’s technologically intensive programs. The report said: “college facilities must be reconfigured, repurposed and renewed on an ongoing basis as new programs are developed, environmental standards are updated, and service delivery approaches are modernized.”
For students, the new funding means they will now be able to go into the field without as much additional training.
“This budget makes important investments in the success of our students,” said Linda Franklin, President of Colleges Ontario. “These investments will help us produce more graduates with the professional and technical expertise that is pivotal to success in today’s economy.”
4. Funding For University Infrastructure
Ontario’s colleges aren’t the only ones who will get some much-needed TLC with the new budget.
The Council of Ontario Universities also submitted a pre-budget report. They requested more funding to light the fire for a projected 25 percent increase in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates over the next five years. They also called for more support for Indigenous students, funding for experiential learning programs and incubators, and investments toward modernized learning spaces.
In this respect, the Liberal budget delivers. $500 million of the $3 billion that will be invested in post-secondary infrastructure will go to universities to help develop STEM and experiential learning projects, as well as modernized learning spaces. David Lindsay, President and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities, was pleased with the announcement.
“Continued investment in universities will allow students and employers to seize their place as global leaders in the economy of the future,” Lindsay said.
5. First French-Language University
Ontario will soon unveil its very first exclusively French-speaking university.
According to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Francophones make up almost 5 percent of Ontario’s population. Ontario houses the largest French-speaking minority community in Canada. 21,300 members of that population are students taking a French-language college or university program. An announcement on a location is pending. However, the university will serve central and southern Ontario, which have the fastest growing Francophone populations.
“Last December, the Université de l’Ontario Français Act, 2017, was given Royal Assent,” said Sousa during the budget announcement. The provincial government is currently taking recommendations from a report by the French-language University Planning Board.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.