With classes set to begin in just over two weeks, Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Milloy swung by Western Monday to talk about Ontario’s move to a more knowledge-based economy and improvements to student assistance and financial aid, including $81M in additional funding.
Starting this year, Milloy says college and university students will spend less time filling out loan and grant applications and will also receive their financial support faster. Along with streamlining student aid by making the application process easier and cutting red tape, Milloy says more financial assistance will be available for tuition, living costs, books, supplies and equipment.
Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Milloy
“Our economy is going through a transformation, to a much more knowledge-based economy, one more focused on high value jobs,” says Milloy, adding over the next decade 70 per cent of new jobs created in Ontario will require postsecondary education or training.
“We recognize the importance of post-secondary education and it’s really exciting what we’ve seen happen here in Ontario. We have a lot more first generation students, Aboriginal students and students with disabilities. We’ve reached out to make sure we have more and more people pursuing such courses of study.”
This year the province is investing $310 million to add 20,000 new spaces to colleges and universities. Since the 2002-03 school year there have been 200,000 new students in university, college and apprenticeship programs.
And to allow more students to access colleges and universities, Milloy says the ministry made major changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) earlier this year.
“This was done through consultation with the students,” says Milloy, who met with numerous student groups for feedback. “Our goal has to be that no student should be denied access to college of university because of their financial circumstances.”
Some of the changes include:
• Allowing students to keep more of the money they earn from part-time jobs. The cap has been raised from $50 per week to $100 per week.
• Providing a no-interest no-payment period on student loans for six months after graduation. After the six-month grace period, payments will be tailored to the student’s income (never above 20 per cent of total family income). If you can’t make payments in the first five years, you will be assessed at zero per cent (government will pick up interest payments). Over time – up to year 15, the government will start to co-share payments. At the end of 15 years, the loan is forgiven. “What this does is it eases a lot of pressure among students graduating,” says Milloy.
• Providing additional support for married students and students with children.
The government is boosting weekly loan maximums to $150 per week for individual students. The weekly limit for married students or students with children will be $350 per week.
• Introducing a new grant for part-time students.
“Our government is committed to making post-secondary education accessible on the basis of ability to learn, not ability to pay,” he says. “That’s why we continue to invest in student aid and to make it easier for students to get the financial help they need.”
Milloy adds new technology for learning is an area he would like to see grow, which he says will require more feedback from the students themselves.
“We’re very anxious to see technology adapted to its fullest extent,” he says. “Online learning is wonderful initiative and doesn’t mean simply watching a lecture; there is so much more available. So how do we encourage it, embrace it and ensure it’s meeting student’s needs? It’s crucial that we talk to students … that’s my focus.”
Milloy also touched on the government’s call for a two-year wage freeze for public sector employees.
“Ontario’s in a very difficult situation. We’ve just come through one of the worst recessions since the 1930s,” he says. “I think what the government is saying is that everyone needs to be realistic in moving forward, in particular individuals in the public sector who are sitting down on a regular basis and who negotiate with administration.”