Provincewide student walkout planned to protest OSAP changes

Post-secondary students across Ontario are expected to walk out of their classes on Wednesday in protest of the Ford government’s changes to OSAP.

Walkouts are planned for noon on at least 17 different campuses across the province, according to the event Facebook page.

The walkout is being organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), which is demanding that the provincial government provide more student grants, increase funding for public education and even eliminate tuition fees for all students.

“Join students from across the province in a walk out on Wednesday, March 20 at 12 p.m. to demonstrate to the Ontario government that we will not tolerate their attacks on students,” CFS said on Facebook.

The protest comes about two months after the Ford government announced changes to the previous Liberal government’s OSAP plan in an attempt to trim the province’s multi-billion-dollar deficit.

One of the changes included the elimination of free tuition for low-income students, a program the auditor-general warned would potentially cost the province $2 billion annually by 2020-21. With the new plan, a portion of the money that low-income students receive will be loans.

Under the previous Liberal plan, families earning up to $175,000 could qualify for some funding, but the PCs have also lowered that threshold to $140,000, with most of the grants going to those families whose income is less than $50,000 per year.

“The previous government believed in handing out OSAP funding to some of Ontario’s highest income earners rather than focus student grants to those individuals who needed it the most,” Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrlee Fullerton said at the time of the announcement.

With the changes also comes the elimination of a six-month, interest-free grace period that students had to pay back their loans following graduation.

The government also announced that it would be cutting tuition fees by 10 per cent and implementing an option to opt out of some ancillary fees.

Those changes are expected to result in an estimated loss of $360 million for universities and $80 million for colleges.

In Toronto, Ryerson University, the University of Toronto, York University, Seneca College and George Brown College are some of the schools where walkouts are expected to happen.

“Students will carry the burden with a lower-quality education in the form of larger class sizes and less attention from professors,” the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) said in an email to students on Tuesday.

“If this goes through, our campus won’t be the same and it will be us, the students, who face the consequences of Ford’s reckless decisions … Let’s come together and send the message that this is not OK.”

The proposed walkout comes after numerous student protests against the OSAP changes, including an incident where procedures were interrupted in the legislature when students shouted obscenities at Premier Ford.

— With files from Travis Dhanraj and The Canadian Press

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