DOUG FORD NEVER LIKED EDUCATION. Not for himself and now not for the youth of Ontario.
The Ontario premier’s total personal education experience comes down to a two-month brush with post-secondary education at a community college, where he says he was “bored silly” and so dropped out. Fortunately, his dad left him and his brother a big successful printing company to manage. No education necessary.
Ford is doing all he can to make the quality education he chose to pass up no longer a real choice for any students in Ontario.
Reducing education quality
He started by forcing larger class sizes on Ontario school students, with massive loss of teacher jobs and the cancellation of elective courses and by abolishing a new sex education curriculum (since largely reversed after public protest).
More recently, Ford turned his malign gaze toward post-secondary education. Deep cuts to universities, and to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), were announced in January. Students only recently discovered precisely how this would hit them individually. One part of the “reform” included the abolition of a six-month reprieve from interest payments on OSAP loans upon graduation, so that many graduates will be paying interest well before they land jobs.
The Ford reform also included the elimination of free tuition for students from low income families. He tried to lessen the blow with a 10% reduction on tuitions. But, even with the reduction the average tuition in Ontario will be close to a hefty $6,000 a year, regardless of family income.
To make matters worse, the Ford government will not make up for the money the universities will not get from lower tuitions. That leaves universties and colleges with $440 mlllion less to maintain a quality education for their students.
Less to share
More bad news for students came with the Ford decision to make steep reductions in OSAP grant and loan packages: $600 million in grant money was cut; loans were not offered to bridge the difference between what students used to get and what they would now get. On the personal level, these last-minute changes may be dire, even catastrophic.
Take Aidan Gowland, for example. His OSAP was cut by $3400. He has a disability, and has no employment. He has been paying for his own medication and physiotherapy, but he won’t be able to do that now, if he wants to complete his full-time degree. He is hoping, as this late date, that he can get a loan from family, or even a bank.
Stories like this have been repeated again, and again, and again. There is an active Twitter thread now, #OSAPcuts, graphically indicating only some of the pain that has been inflicted on Ontario post-secondary students by Ford’s heavy-handed measures.
28,000 forced to drop out
It has been estimated, in fact, that 28,000 students will be unable to register this fall because of the cuts. The relatively more fortunate ones, scrambling to find the money they need just to live and pay tuition, will be burdened with even more debt upon graduation—debt that has already soared to unmanageable heights for far too many.
Students and their allies have been rallying and organizing across the province since the news of cuts first broke in January, and efforts have been intensifying since the full import of the cuts was made known in June. There will be another rally at Queen’s Park on July 20, when most students are home for the summer break. But the emphasis is presently on local actions and activist skills-building meetings to aim towards mass actions in the Fall.
There may be hope. During his first shambolic year in office, Ford has tended to blunder into backward-looking policy until strong public reaction has made him blunder back out again. The autism funding changes were a case in point: who knew that the parents of a small affected minority could make such a successful noise?
Now it’s another affected group, in far greater numbers, whose organizational abilities have already been tried and tested. If past student mobilizations are any guide, the Ford government may once again have messed with the wrong people.
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