Not a-loan in feeling the squeeze

OSAP applications up 16 per cent, Associate University Registrar says

Saquib Siddiqui, ArtSci ’13, waits for his OSAP loan in Gordon Hall. He’s opting out of a meal plan and working part-time to pay for school this year.
Saquib Siddiqui, ArtSci ’13, waits for his OSAP loan in Gordon Hall. He’s opting out of a meal plan and working part-time to pay for school this year.

Like many students returning to school after a summer of record unemployment, Saquib Siddiqui, ArtSci ’13, is counting every dollar of his Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan to make the money stretch this year.

Siddiqui may not know how to cook yet, but hundreds of dollars says he will soon learn.

“I’m going to buy my own groceries,” he said. “It’s much cheaper than Queen’s meal plan.”

Siddiqui, who lives in Jean Royce Hall on West Campus, opted not to get a meal plan to save some money that he said he’ll put towards other expenses.

OSAP applications have increased from last year, said Teresa Alm, associate university registrar for student awards.

“We have an approximately 16 per cent increase in OSAP applications in our complete student population,” she said.

That’s an increase of about 500 students, she said, adding that slightly less than one-third of the University’s undergraduate students are on government loans.

“It was pretty static over the past few years,” Alm said. “We know students have had a difficult time this year.”

Since Student Awards started releasing OSAP money on Aug. 31, the office has been constantly busy, she said.

“The number of students in the past one-and-a-half weeks has been higher than in recent previous years,” she said. “It might be that students want to be a little more cautious and be more organized in getting their stuff together quickly.”

Alm said all students should apply for OSAP, or other government loans if they’re from outside the province, even if they don’t think they will get any assistance.

“Not all students will qualify for OSAP but they should apply and see if they qualify,” she said. “Up to 49 per cent of OSAP is non-repayable.”

In its 2008 budget, the federal government decided not to renew some of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation’s bursary and scholarship programs.

Instead, a new Canada Student Grants program was created, which begins this year. The grant is expected to help more than 245,000 students, the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada website said.

“What we’re seeing is that it’s targeting students from lower and lower-middle income families,” Alm said. “For some, in addition to OSAP, they will qualify. … It’s a non-repayable.”

New this year, the Ontario government’s $150 textbook and technology grant will only be available to full-time students who are also on OSAP assistance, she said.

“It was very easy last year but this year it’s more complex,” she said. “It’s in order to contain their costs, in a sense, for the provincial government.”

About 40 per cent of undergraduate students use Queen’s student assistance, which includes scholarships, bursaries, work-study programs and a line of credit, Alm said.

For students who don’t qualify for loans or work-study, there are entrance and upper-year scholarships based on merit, she said.

Some awards require separate applications and a few require an accompanying essay.

“There are very few awards that go un-awarded,” she said, adding that faculty-specific awards tend to receive fewer applicants. “Every little bit helps.”

Siddiqui was awarded two Queen’s scholarships totalling about $5,000, he said.

Although his scholarships will help him pay his tuition for the year, Siddiqui said he’ll be looking for a part-time job this month to start saving money for next year.

“I get some help from my parents but not very much because it’s a tight budget as it is,” he said. “The feeling of debt—it feels like it’s looming over me.”

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