Free tu­ition too late for some

Post-sec­ondary grads push­ing On­tario govern­ment to of­fer some ben­e­fit from new plan

Toronto Star - - CANADA - KRISTIN RUSHOWY QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU

On­tario stu­dents who’ve al­ready grad­u­ated from col­lege or univer­sity say the new free tu­ition plan doesn’t ben­e­fit them — and an on­line pe­ti­tion ask­ing that their loans ei­ther be for­given or be made in­ter­est-free now has al­most 63,000 sig­na­tures.

At a news con­fer­ence Mon­day with NDP Leader An­drea Hor­wath, Ah­mad Mous­saoui told re­porters he has $17,000 in debt af­ter three years of col­lege plus a year of univer­sity, “and like most stu­dents in On­tario, I grad­u­ated to find no jobs in my field. I in­curred a lot of debt as well so that was kind of tough.”

Deb Matthews, the prov­ince’s min­is­ter of ad­vanced ed­u­ca­tion and skills de­vel­op­ment, said the govern­ment has “taken a lot of steps over 13 years in govern­ment to re­duce stu­dent loans and, hence, stu­dent debt.”

The new tu­ition plan, which comes into ef­fect next fall, means 150,000 stu­dents “will get more in grants — not loans, grants — than their tu­ition,” Matthews said. Cur­rently, On­tario pro­vides stu­dents with $1.3 bil­lion in grants and loans, about 70 per cent of which don’t have to be re­paid.

But Hor­wath said some big changes need to be made be­cause “one of the big­gest chal­lenges young peo­ple face to­day is stu­dent debt,” which now av­er­ages $28,000 af­ter four years of post-sec­ondary stud­ies. She said the NDP has pledged to put an end to in­ter­est charged on On­tario stu­dent loans, which would cost the govern­ment — but save stu­dents — a to­tal of $25 mil­lion each year.

The Lib­er­als’ “not-free tu­ition pro­gram is not the panacea they claim it is,” added Hor­wath, who launched a web­site for stu­dents to dis­cuss debt.

Matthews, how­ever, said she’s sur­prised the NDP “is not ap­plaud­ing these changes” to help lower-in­come stu­dents ac­cess post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion.

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