‘Education is not a playing ground, it’s not a privilege, it’s a priority,’ organizer says
On Tuesday, students, politicians and other protesters gathered at Tabaret Lawn to march together to Parliament Hill to denounce the recent cuts to Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and other post-secondary services by the provincial government.
Organized by Students Fight Back, the protest was held during the second week of classes for University of Ottawa students, many of whom already have seen cuts to their grant funding.
“The people who are here are missing class to stand up for those who can’t come to class at all this semester,” said one of the event’s organizers Tim Gulliver, a second-year political science student at the U of O. “The more voices that we add to this protest and more people that actually show up and demonstrate physically that they care, the more that you’re affirming that you care.”
For some students, grant cuts have affected if they are able to continue their post-secondary studies at all.
In Jamie MacInnis’s case, OSAP grants were the only way for her to attend her first year of university at the U of O.
“I relied heavily on OSAP going into my first year … to put me through school so that I could get money for extra things on the side such as textbooks,” she explained. “I know that a lot of people can’t even go back for first semester, let alone second.”
After OSAP cuts, MacInnis said she will not be able to attend her second semester at the U of O after her grants were cut in half.
“Going into this year, I thought I would be able to slide by with OSAP. I thought I’d be able to get along pretty well considering that I am from a low-income, single-income family. Unfortunately, that was not the case.”
Organizers highlighted that MacInnis is not alone, and many of them have been forced to drop out of their studies after they did not receive enough grants. Organizers emphasized OSAP grants are not only helping cover tuition but allow students to put money toward textbooks, groceries, health care and other necessities without having to make sacrifices or choosing between them.
Anglena Sawar says she now has to pay half her students fees in loans. In previous years, she received over two-thirds of her tuition in the form of grants.
“It’s something that personally affects me a lot, and I think it’s something important, especially because we have an upcoming federal election. I feel like a lot of people aren’t updated on what’s going on,” she explains.
“I’m not really sure how I will end up saving enough money for school, especially because a lot of my grants have been cut off,” she says. Sawar is looking into tight budgeting and working two jobs after she finishes her semesters this year to be able to pay off her student debt.
Gulliver says he hopes the protest at the U of O can help spark a movement across other Ontario campuses.
Organizers are already exploring other events and methods of protest for the coming semester. Gulliver says he personally believes a next step would be to organize a one-day strike event as it’s a good representation for students and staff to show support for those who cannot attend classes because of lack of funding.
“I don’t foresee us going away anytime soon and the issue isn’t going away any time soon,” said Gulliver.