TORONTO — Ed Leurebourg thought he was getting his university degree for free.
The 19-year-old student made his plans for post-secondary studies when Ontario’s Liberal government was offering “free tuition” to students from low-income families. As the son of immigrants who worked hard to pay the bills, his tuition was covered, so Leurebourg decided to study at Toronto’s York University instead of living at home with his family in Ottawa.
Then, about two months before Leurebourg started university, Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford came to power. His PC government scrapped the free tuition program to make students repay more of the funding they receive through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
This year, Leurebourg will receive nearly $2,000 less in grants than he did last year. He got an extra $600 in loans that he has to eventually repay.
Ford’s policies are an “attack” on students that will disproportionately hurt kids from immigrant families, Leurebourg told HuffPost Canada.
“I’m the first generation of my family to go to university. It’s a big strain that’s happening,” he said.
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Leurebourg, who moved to Canada from Haiti as a child, said his friends whose families have been here for generations won’t be impacted as badly as he will be.
“Their families already have the means to support them with, like, savings accounts ready for them when they come to age. My parents have been here for ten years. You know what I mean? There’s none of that,” he said.
At the same time the government announced its changes to OSAP, it also said it would cut tuition costs by 10 per cent. That means a student paying average tuition for a college diploma would save about $200 and a student paying for the average bachelor’s degree would save approximately $600.
Leurebourg said it’s not enough to make up for the $2,000 he lost in grants.
He said he’ll have to find a second part-time job when he returns to Toronto for the school year. He already works 15 hours a week at the university’s IT help desk but says it’s not enough money to cover his rent, textbooks, living expenses, and now some tuition, too.
He said he might have to give up extracurricular activities, like his position as vice president of his student council, if he needs more time to work.
Those activities are vital to his experience at school, Leurebourg said.
“Just focusing on school and work means that I’m missing out on so many things that I could be learning.”
On top of the changes to OSAP, here are the other PC policies that will affect post-secondary students this year.
Students can save some money through the government’s “Student Choice Initiative,” which makes fees for some clubs and services optional instead of mandatory.
The former minister said the policy could save students more than $1,000 a year, but at York, the maximum savings is actually $85 a year for a student in Leurebourg’s program.
The fees that are now optional range from less than $1 to more than $100. They fund student unions, newspapers, clubs and services for groups like women, LGBTQ students and racialized students — so some campuses may see these programs disappear if too few students want to pay the fees.
A union representing students at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus has said that the policy means it will have to cut $80,000 in bursaries.
“Unfortunately, with this reality, we are uncertain of our budget moving forward,” the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) wrote in a note on Facebook. “As a result, our bursary program is suspended until we are aware of how many students have chosen to maintain paying into our collective bursary program.”
Students may have to pay to attend events on campus if they opt out of certain fees.
Leurebourg said that even though he needs to save money, he’s not going to opt out of any fees.
“It kind of sucks, because it’s either you cut off all these student organizations to save a couple bucks, or you keep them and put a further strain on yourself,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a fair choice.”
There was some confusion after the government’s announcement about the six-month “grace period” that students have after graduating before they have to start paying back their OSAP loans. Students still don’t have to pay back their loans during that time, but interest will accumulate on the money they owe. That wasn’t the case under the previous government.
Earlier On HuffPost: