Student leaders say newly announced supports from the province a good start
SUDBURY -- Help is on the way for post-secondary students dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, March 31, the province of Ontario announced that it would temporarily be deferring re-payments for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). It's also making online learning supports, including year-end exams, available.
Ontario's Minister of Colleges and Universities says all students who are paying student loans are eligible for the support.
"They will have a six month deferral, no interest, no payments and no collections," said Minister Ross Romano from Toronto.
The province is also distributing $25-million among schools to help them deal with pressing needs like deep-cleaning, purchasing medical supplies and mental health supports.
The move is being applauded by some who feel this will have a large impact but they warn this is unchartered territory and more may be needed.
"I think it's really critical to get a bit of financial pressure off of students with all of the changes and challenges that we're going through with the COVID-19 pandemic," said Eric Chappell, president of Laurentian University's Students' General Association (SGA).
"I think this is a start, I believe it's a response to a need. We're in a time where we're all kind of reacting and we're just starting to get used to this as the norm so I'd expect that they would make more announcements and come out with more support moving forward as we realize the full impact of what we're dealing with here," said Chappell.
"It's impossible for somebody to hope to find a job when all of the established people who have been there for years are worried about their jobs, now I think we're going to get through, we just need relief." he added
Sentiments echoed by his counterpart at Cambrian College.
"I think it's great news for students who have graduated and are in repayment, it's a huge relief. I know I'm i that boat right now and it's one less thing to be worried about," said Cambrian College Student Council President M.C. Guillemette.
"And for the extra funding to be able to help our students, I know Cambrian does have resources and has been working around the clock to try and figure out something for each individual and how to best assist them and this is going to be phenomenal to help out more students." she adds.
Guillemette says it's hard to tell as to whether this will work or whether further support will be needed.
"This is all so new, everybody's trying to figure it out as best they can and I feel like I keep saying this in meetings and saying this to students, co-workers and the administration and we're writing the book on this," she said.
Laurentian University Interim Vice-President of Academic and Provost Serge Demers applauded the move.
"By all means all funding is very much appreciated, I think our students will be able to complete their terms on time through this particular infusion of money at this time," said Demers.
Hilary Lockhart is a Laurentian student who lives in residence and has been physically isolating since the outbreak. She's one of the many Canadians who lives with an underlying condition and has been doing it as a precaution.
Faculty, in particular her religious studies professor, has been helping her to run errands and groceries to limit her exposure.
"It's really hard to see how selfish people are thinking that it might not affect them (COVID-19), well ya it might not affect them but they have to realize there are Canadians that have underlying health conditions that have immuno-compromises, that it's going to affect them more than these people that are going out doing whatever they want to do," said Lockhart.
She says the move by the province should just be a start, students need more.
"It' doesn't go far enough because they have the repayment assistance program so that's the same sort of deal, you don't pay your student loan for six months and you just keep reapplying every six months. It's not really making a difference at all, if they want to make a difference in students lives they need to take a look at how much they're giving us for things like student aid because the cuts this year have been absolutely drastic. I've had to work full-time just to make ends meets," she said.
The province's announcement comes two weeks after the federal government first announcement that it would suspend or pause student loan repayment.