For Immediate Release
January 18, 2019
TORONTO, ON — Yesterday, the Ontario provincial government announced several changes to the tuition framework for universities and colleges and Ontario’s student financial aid system known as the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). While we are worried about the implications of the changes in financial assistance, we also would like to note other changes to the education system. In this announcement, the government also included a stipulation that would allow students to opt-out of certain non-tuition fees which are deemed “non-essential”.
Helping Hands understands the government’s inclination to save students money by allowing them to opt-out of non-tuition additional fees. However, Helping Hands strongly emphasizes that this provision will consequentially reduce the levels of student services and make support services more expensive for individual students who need to access them. For instance, many schools have access to mental health, sexual assault response centres and more. By reducing these on-campus services, the need for such services will shift onto the provincial government while becoming harder for students to access.
“As a grade 12 student, I find these cuts extremely worrisome,” says Giselle Hinds a grade 12 student and Director of Communications and Outreach Initiatives at Helping Hands, “The decrease in financial supports will impact myself and my fellow classmates. Ensuring that the government invests into all aspects of education is essential in preparing students for their future. Of the many qualities I strongly value in my post-secondary education, the ability to develop my leadership skills is among the top of the list. Many of the most important leadership skills in school environments are learned beyond the classroom, in extracurriculars and initiatives.”
We can learn from others’ mistakes. In 2005, the Australian government made a decision to ban compulsory non-academic fees, which was reversed in 2011 after noticing the unintended consequences that negatively impacted students, student unions, and institutions. During the ban on compulsory non-academic fees, students faced a decrease in student service levels and an increase in individual costs. Australian student unions saw a decrease in student advocacy and student representation. (https://www.smh.com.au/education/student-union-fees-to-return-20100929-15xgk.html)
At Helping Hands, we support student leadership across Ontario. We have created programming to support student leaders at school clubs and community organizations. Many students have already struggled with limited resources to provide a better educational experience for their peers; cuts to the budget will perpetuate this. We are exploring ways to continue running our programs that teach entrepreneurial skills and soft skills development.
We have spent the past month dealing with the ramifications of the Ontario government funding cuts that supported student voice and leadership at the grade 7 – 12 level. You can read more here: https://helpinghandsapp.com/blog/the-erosion-of-student-voice/. It is clear that student leadership will be negatively affected while youth are in their formative years of self-development.
“For many people, these are the roots of democracy, voluntarism, and activism. The impact would have a ripple effect for a generation.”- Ken Wyman, a college professor and former student journalist.
Helping Hands is highly concerned about how this provision may impact student associations across Ontario. The autonomy of student governments, student representation, campus media outlets including newspapers and radio stations, clubs systems, student-led programming, transit passes, and peer-support services, will be at risk. Services that cater to the needs of marginalized communities will receive less funding and, in essence, will prevent their needs from being met. Most student unions’ services, funded through student fees, reduce post-secondary institutions and student reliance on government funding. Student Unions are essential in filling in the gaps in programming and services where post-secondary institutions cannot or will not. Ontario colleges and universities are facing a mental health crisis as campus counsellors are overwhelmed by the growing need for services, according to a study from Ontario University and College Health Association (OUCHA). In 2016, 65 percent of students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety in the previous year (up from 57 percent in 2013).
Helping Hands looks forward to sharing these concerns with the government and understanding how the details of the ancillary fee provision will impact Ontario students.
“Helping Hands is on a mission to increase youth community engagement through building technology and in-person activities. We have created a platform that matches students with volunteer organizations. We facilitate workshops on the importance of volunteering and soft skill development, provide mentorship, encourage youth voter engagement, support youth leadership through customized workshops and support finding grants to support their work. For more information: helpinghandsapp.com”
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