Auditor General’s Annual Report takes aim at OSAP funding

CBJ Newsmakers

TORONTO, Dec. 10, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Yesterday, the Ontario Auditor General released their Annual Report. In their review of government expenditures, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk takes aim at the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the “free tuition” program implemented under the previous Liberal government.

The changes to OSAP, rolled out in September 2017, amalgamated all of the previously existing OSAP grants and tax credits into one upfront package. This made it easier for students to access the maximum amount of financial aid available to them. In its first year, over 210,000 students received non-repayable grants that covered the average cost of an Arts and Science degree. The purpose of this program was to remove financial barriers for low-income students that prevent them from attending college or university and limit their success while in school.

“The changes made to OSAP under the previous government were an important step in the right direction. The high cost of tuition and the prospects of taking on thousands of dollars in debt discourages low-income students from making the decision to go to school,” said Nour Alideeb, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. “Despite the way in which the changes to OSAP have been described in the Auditor General’s report, there was virtually no new money put forward by the government to create the modified grants program. Almost all of the funding came from previously existing tax credits and OSAP grants,” said Alideeb.

In the Annual Report, the Auditor General criticized the program for costing more than initially expected. She also criticized the program for not creating a significant increase in enrollment at colleges and universities across Ontario.

“To question the effectiveness of a program that has only been in place for a year is poor practice in policy analysis. At this point, it’s impossible to say whether the program was effective in boosting enrollment from low-income students,” said Alideeb. “The report points out that enrollment across Ontario increased by 2% last year but fails to specify whether that increase was made up of primarily low-income students. That detail is left out of the report altogether.”

“It is also unfair to evaluate how efficient this program has been based solemnly on enrollment figures. One of the primary goals of this program was to alleviate levels of debt taken on by low-income students,” said Alideeb. “Research has shown that low-income students have a harder time being successful in academia due to increased pressure to work part-time or full-time throughout their studies and still make ends meet. They are also more likely to have to work outside of their field upon graduation by necessity in order to repay their loans. This has a negative impact on their mental health,” said Alideeb.

“The changes to OSAP also included expanding eligibility criteria to include mature students. Previous OSAP programs excluded mature students from eligibility. The changes to OSAP made under the previous Liberal government sought to support mature students who attend college or university,” said Alideeb. “The Auditor General assumes that mature students that live at home are dependent on their parent’s income. This is an unfair characterization of the challenges faced by young people today who may have no other option than to continue living with their parents as a result of precarious employment and Ontario’s housing crisis. Many mature students who live with their parents are also income-earners for their families,” said Alideeb.

“The Auditor General’s report has given a political opinion about the OSAP program rather than a value-for-dollar audit. The Auditor General fails to acknowledge the many positive impacts of the targeted-free-tuition program or address the long-term objectives of the changes made to OSAP under the previous government. It is deeply concerning that this Annual Report is being used to put forward a blatant political agenda to undermine the previous government,” said Alideeb.  

For more information contact:
Ian McRae, Government Relations and Policy Coordinator: 416-925-3825 or 306-852-0128 (cell)
Nour Alideeb, Chairperson: 416-925-3825