Last February, when the provincial government introduced a new Ontario School Grant (OSG) designed to provide free tuition to post-secondary students from low-income families, many of us considered it too good to be true. It sounded almost make-belief, like the “fake news” we’re so accustomed to hearing about lately.
A few weeks after the official announcement, a friend of mine informed me that he had withdrawn from his university’s engineering program. As the eldest child in a single parent, low-income family of five, he routinely spent more time at his part-time job than he did on campus, and contributed more of his paychecks towards paying for household bills than towards his tuition.
My friend wasn’t alone in his decision. I have since heard stories of many students from low-income families temporarily postponing their post-secondary studies until “free education” kicks in.
But what does this new grant really entail? Starting in the 2017-18 school year, the OSG will provide enough grants to cover the average cost of tuition for students whose parents make an income of $50,000 or less a year. Though it is still unclear how this funding will actually roll out, the promise of more affordable education has elicited a lot of buzz.
Some might call this a major step forward in the laborious fight against school fees. Others consider it a token attempt at progressivism. As a post-secondary student who will likely benefit from this new grant system, I have some thoughts regarding this new financial aid.
THERE IS NOTHING RADICAL ABOUT THE OSG
Amidst all of the excitement around the OSG, there is seldom any mention of where the money is actually coming from. According to the Ontario Ministry of Finance’s website, the new funding is more or less an amalgamation of existing grants into a “single, major upfront grant.” Little if any new government funding appears to be added to the mix.
So while it’s lovely that these grants target students with the greatest financial need, there is nothing radical, in my opinion, about rearranging an existing pot of money and offering a bit more of it to the students who need it most.
FREE TUITION IS NOT FREE EDUCATION
Free tuition is not equivalent to free education, nor should it be misconstrued as such. Under the OSG, many disadvantaged students – especially those in higher-cost university programs – will still likely have debt to repay. Free education in the absolute sense wouldn’t even provide the option of grants, because there wouldn’t be any expenses to worry about in the first place.
FREE EDUCATION IS NOT A MYTH
I often hear the argument that free education is the type of absurd demand that can only be expected from a generation as entitled as ours, a generation that does not value hard work and is therefore unwilling to contribute a penny towards their own education. Anyone who truly believes this logic should take a moment to reflect on the amount of privilege it takes to share such sentiments.
Education is a human right, not a commodity to be commercialized and occasionally discounted for those who can’t afford it. Free education already exists in certain places around the world, so why shouldn’t it be a reality here?
Ultimately, I don’t believe that anyone should have to put their education on the backburner for the sake of affordability, especially individuals coming from already marginalized communities.
I refuse to be satisfied with new “affordable education” programs until free comprehensive education is recognized for all.