12/27/2011 07:38 EST | Updated 02/26/2012 05:12 EST

Tuition Rebates Begin For 310,000 Ontario Students In January


TORONTO - The majority of post-secondary students in Ontario will receive 30 per cent tuition rebates in time for the second instalment of their fees, promises Colleges and Universities Minister Glen Murray.

A centrepiece of the Liberal campaign platform was rebates of $730 for each college student and $1,600 for each university student from families with incomes under $160,000 a year.

Those already enrolled in the Ontario Student Assistance Program — about half of the 310,000 who will be eligible for the tuition rebates — will automatically be in line for the rebates, said Murray.

"They won’t have to do anything," he said.

"They will get an automatic computer credit based on their OSAP application (and) that will happen well in time for them to pay the second instalment of their tuitions."

The rest will have to apply online at a website to be launched next month.

"There will be a simple, easy to navigate website established in January that will be available for those students to apply, and it will be done well in time for them to meet the payment," said Murray.

"They will have lots of lead time to be able to fill out a simple form on line."

Murray credits Dalton McGuinty — the self-proclaimed education premier — with pushing the idea, saying families need help to cope with the slow recovery that followed the recent recession.

"We’re removing significant financial barriers for families who are under financial stress, especially for families — and there are many — who have two or three or four children now either in college or university or in the final years of high school," said Murray.

The Liberals say five out of six families with students will benefit from the tuition rebates, but the Canadian Federation of Students said all students should get a tuition cut.

The students' group presented a 40,000-signature petition to the legislature asking that the $423-million annual cost of the rebate program be used to pay for a 13 per cent reduction in tuition fees for everyone.

"Dalton McGuinty was elected by promising to reduce tuition fees, and students are calling for him to keep his promise and turn this grant into an across-the-board fee reduction," said Krisna Saravanamuttu, Ontario Representative of the CFS.

The opposition parties support the students' position that the Liberals should reduce tuition fees for all.

The Tories said a government facing a $16-billion deficit should not be launching such an expensive program, and claimed the policy was "made up on the back of a napkin," and has not been thought out.

"They don’t have the details students need and it’s putting the onus on students to jump into the policy rather than giving it to everyone," said Progressive Conservative critic Rob Leone.

"This policy doesn’t apply to everyone equally, so it’s not a fair and equitable policy."

The New Democrats called the rebates a good "first step," but also said any tuition fee cuts should be given to all students.

"We need to help struggling students, they need a break," said NDP critic Teresa Armstrong.

"This grant is not addressing the affordability of post-secondary school tuition for all students."

The government is "doing the final kicking of the tires on the website and things like that," and will move quickly to streamline the rebate program, said Murray.

"We’re trying to move to a system where students register only once for student assistance or for tuition grants, and I’m very optimistic we’ll have that in place in January," he said.

The Canadian Federation of Students also complained post-graduate students would not benefit from the tuition rebates, but the government said the program was deliberately designed to help students with their first four years of university.

"The reason we said four years is because in Year 5 students become independent, and we calculate their student aid, grants and assistance based on their own personal income, not on their parents’ income," said Murray.