A Liberal member of provincial parliament on Tuesday wrote an open letter to the minister in charge of post-secondary education, calling on his ministry to reveal the number of students unable to attend university or college this year due to student loan cuts.
MPP Michael Coteau, one of six remaining Liberals in the provincial parliament, asked in his letter to Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Ross Romano to admit that post-secondary enrolment is down due to Ontario Student Assistance Program cuts.
“Your government cut funding to OSAP by $660 million. At the same time, you cut funding to universities by $360 million and to colleges by $80 million–all to give a few hundred-dollars reduction in tuition,” Coteau, the MPP for Don Valley East in Toronto wrote.
The provincial Progressive Conservative government announced earlier this year a reform package that cut domestic tuition by 10 per cent, slashed grants and loans offered via OSAP and introduced optional student fees via the Student Choice Initiative, a move opposed by student unions.
Calling the OSAP cuts “misguided and wrong”, Coteau said that “if enrolment decline is as drastic as is widely indicated through available evidence across the sector, this represents a catastrophic failure that will impact thousands of students, particularly low-income students.”
“There is no better investment a government can make in our future economic competitiveness than training up our young people or helping adults return to school.”
Beyond domestic students, Coteau pointed out that institutions will have to bring in more foreign students to fill the tuition gap. Any decline would also impact the local economies of any college or university.
Coteau said that he was the first member of his family to graduate from university, which would have been impossible without OSAP, writing that “the greatest waste in Ontario is the waste of human potential, and these foolish cuts to universities and colleges are harming thousands of students and our economic prospects.”
Under the previous Liberal provincial government, the bottom 200,000 students in terms of income were able to attend post-secondary on 100 per cent grants, virtually free. The degrees of grants were higher for students in general and there was movement towards universal education in Ontario.
However, when the Progressive Conservatives won the provincial election of 2018, the government under Premier Doug Ford slashed OSAP to a point where no student is eligible for 100 per cent grants and many students have said they are unable to return this fall due to the financial toll.
The New Democratic Party took the official opposition as the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne crumbled. The NDP promised universal education and loan forgiveness if they were brought into power.
The Liberal MPP is running for the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party and, if he wins, will go up against Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath, who received a vote of confidence earlier this year, in 2022.
The Post also reached out to the provincial government and the New Democrats for comment.
‘Don’t give up’
Michael Coteau, the MPP for Don Valley East and a leadership candidate for the provincial Liberals, told The Avro Post in an interview that students should not give up because of the extended struggles that they now face.
“Don’t give up,” Coteau said when asked what he would tell students going through financial hardship, adding: “don’t let [Premier] Doug Ford and his vision for Ontario ruin your vision for yourself”.
As for what students can do in the fight to defend their education, Coteau said that there is two approaches. There is an advocacy side where students can “make noise”, for example, through student organizations, and a personal side: the impact of the changes to each individual.
The United Kingdom-born MPP encouraged students to stand strong and have “resilience”.
Coteau applauded the student unions and campus newspapers that are fighting the Student Choice Initiative, an aspect of the financial reforms introduced by the province earlier this year.
When asked about what he saw campuses doing to defend students, Coteau cited a “culture of fear” within the institutions themselves, including inside the public colleges and universities.