A UTM student is in the middle of a battle with administration to obtain more financial aid for her education.
H.P.A.* moved to Toronto from Vancouver to pursue postsecondary studies at UTM in 2012. Having to support herself but ineligible for OSAP—which requires her to have lived in Ontario for a year not studying full-time in a postsecondary school—H.P.A. applied for assistance through the British Columbia student loan program, StudentAidBC.
However, H.P.A. explains that the $15,000 she receives annually from StudentAidBC is used up quickly with rising tuition costs, monthly rent, and a number of “extenuating circumstances”.
Although she says she received a “very generous” grant of “$4,500 to $5,000” in her first year as a UTM Undergraduate Grant, H.P.A. says the following year she was forced to pay her fees through credit cards.
“[The UTM Grant assessment] just came back saying that I didn’t get anything. It didn’t go into detail,” said H.P.A.. She was later told that her application was missing a notice of assessment.
“We had to go through all these hoops of getting contact from somebody to only tell us that my notice of assessment was missing,” she said. “So then I handed it in and there were some complications […] because at this time it was past the due date.”
In the end, H.P.A. says she received “a whopping $300”.
That year, she claims she was also fined over $800 in interest for her late tuition payment.
She then approached university officials to discuss her situation and was directed to Mark Overton, UTM’s dean of student affairs, and Helen Slade of Student Retention Services at St. George.
In September, H.P.A., accompanied by UTMSU VP part-time Amir Moazzami, had a meeting with Overton and Slade to discuss her situation.
“Nothing was done,” she said of the outcome.
Neither H.P.A. nor Moazzami could go into specifics because both said they had agreed to confidentiality, with H.P.A. saying she signed an agreement to that effect.
“[Overton] told me it was for my benefit when really it was for [Overton and Slade’s] or they would have signed it, too,” she said. “Basically they were rushing me to sign it before Amir arrived.”
“They told me it was for my benefit so that nobody would disclose information from that meeting. […] Why is it [that] I was the only one that had to sign it?” she added.
When asked to comment, Overton said he could not speak publicly about individual student aid cases.
U of T media spokesperson Althea Blackburn-Evans also did not respond to specific questions on H.P.A.’s case, but said that the university has put “significant resources” towards its Policy on Student Financial Support, which stipulates, “No student offered admission to a program at the University of Toronto should be unable to enter or complete the program due to lack of financial means.”
At the UTMSU annual general meeting in November, H.P.A. accused the university of failing to meet its policy.
UTMSU executive director Walied Khogali commented at the time that H.P.A.’s situation is “one of many” that UTMSU has dealt with.
Khogali, Moazzami, and VP equity Melissa Theodore have all been involved in H.P.A.’s case, including providing her with support through UTMSU grants.
Khogali added that almost 100 students have benefited this year from UTMSU’s bursary program.
“It’s really unfortunate that the university is not fulfilling its mandate by providing enough financial resources to support students,” he commented at the meeting.
“U of T provides over $160 million in financial support to students each year, equivalent to the entire budget of some Ontario universities,” said Blackburn-Evans, who added that the U of T Advance Planning for Students (UTAPS) program also covers living expenses in addition to tuition and textbooks, “making it the most generous university student financial assistance program in Ontario”.
H.P.A. said she was almost unable to continue her studies this year and had to borrow money to do so. Although she has applied for the UTM Undergraduate Grant again this year, as of press time H.P.A. had not received notice of how much funding she is eligible for.
In the meantime, she has requested a meeting with Slade to continue to discuss her situation.
“It should not be this difficult for somebody to get help […] I can see a lot of students giving up at this point,” she said.
UTM Undergraduate Grants are given to students based on their financial need as assessed by OSAP, or in the case of out-of-province students, UTAPS. UTAPS provides non-repayable grants to students whose financial need is not covered fully through OSAP or other government assistance programs. The UTAPS assessment is based on OSAP methodology for evaluating student need.
*March 2016: Name initialized and certain details removed due to privacy concerns.