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Ontario Conservatives seek to cut $30 million in international student funding

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CUP Ontario Bureau Chief

Tim Hudak, 2009
TORONTO (CUP) — Funding for a program implemented to draw international PhD students to Ontario would be cut under a Progressive Conservative Ontario government, according to party leader Tim Hudak.

In a recent announcement, Hudak said that money designated for the Trillium Scholarship fund would be diverted to middle-class Ontario families. The program, set up by Dalton McGuinty’s government last year, would be closed after its first year ends in September 2012.

“It certainly doesn’t send a good message to students who would be interested in coming to study in Ontario,” said Sandy Hudson, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. “There are opportunities around the world that are much better than the opportunities Ontario gives, in terms of financial assistance, and it sends a very strong message to students who’d be interested in coming to study in Ontario if that program is stopped in its first year.”

The Trillium program has been developed to give 75 international PhD students with high academic standards $40,000 a year, for four years, to study at Ontario universities. For the first four years of the program, the Ontario government is investing $20 million, with another $10 million coming from the province’s universities. The first batch of students receiving Trillium funding are beginning their studies in the approaching 2011”“2012 academic year.

Leila Reyhani, an international master’s student studying computer networks at Ryerson University, said that international students could suffer without financial support. Current provincial rules prevent international students from working part-time while studying.

“The cost of living in Canada can be high, so it’s hard,” said Reyhani.

While neither Hudak nor a Progressive Conservative representative was available for comment, a press release states that after the Trillium program is closed, the $30 million would be redirected to middle-class families who currently have trouble accessing loans through the Ontario Student Assistance Program. The threshold of financial assistance through OSAP would be raised, meaning that more families could have more access to larger OSAP loans.

But although Ontario students would benefit, international students already receiving funding from the Trillium program could face problems, according to Hudson.

“It’s going to be really difficult for the students who are coming this year if the program is stopped after the first year, because part of the program is based on financial needs,” said Hudson, adding that overseas students bring over $2 billion to Ontario’s economy.

“International students are a net benefit economically to the province, so the fact that we’re stopping that opportunity doesn’t really save as much money,” said Hudson. “What it does do is it sends a message to international students that Ontario isn’t interested in either them or in helping in financial aid, or assisting in the difficulties that many international students find themselves in.”

photo: Ontario Chamber of Commerce/Flickr

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