Close to 50 Orillia Lakehead University students joined their provincial counterparts by heading outside Wednesday to protest provincial government funding changes.
Led by Brandon Rhéal Amyot, of the Lakehead University Student Union in Orillia, students voiced their concerns about OSAP changes they say could affect their ability to pursue a post-secondary education.
“The students united will never be defeated,” Amyot said, calling out Premier Doug Ford’s Tory government and its changes announced earlier this year as a means to combat Ontario’s multi-billion-dollar deficit.
Amyot said OSAP cuts, which would include eliminating free tuition for low-income students, will end up hurting everyone in the long run.
“We need to be moving forward rather than backward. We want a reduction in the amount of loans and an increase in the amount of grants.”
Amyot, who noted the school contributes millions of dollars in economic spin-off to the Orillia area, said the cuts will affect smaller schools like Lakehead’s Orillia campus the most by leading to diminished student services and possibly reducing enrolment.
“We could lose hundreds of students at a campus that only has 1,400,” Amyot said. “We want grants, not loans, and for tuition to be abolished.”
Lakehead mature student and single mother Christie Cortese said she wouldn’t be able to travel from Barrie to attend school in Orillia without OSAP.
“Education should be a right and it should be free,” she said, adding students should not “have to pay for knowledge.”
Second-year student Ashley Warburton commutes from Bradford to attend the Orillia school. She said the existing OSAP model isn’t fair to students because it bases the amount of funding students receive on their parents’ income — something that penalizes students like her who aren’t receiving parental help to go to school.
“One thing about this school is that it’s accessible,” Warburton said, noting area students benefit by having a campus within driving distance and that’s not in Toronto.
The student union plans to air a documentary Thursday at 5 p.m. based on the Quebec student protest of 2012 that lasted more than 100 days as nearly 250,000 walked out.