Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance Director visits Queen’s

Helpard discusses OSAP, hears student concerns

OUSA Director Sophie Helpard (left) and AMS Commissioner of Academic Affairs Victoria Lewarne (right).

In a visit to campus on Wednesday, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) Director Sophie Helpard predicted another productive year of post-secondary education-related policy recommendations. 

“Our home office is currently conducting campus visits for member institutions, talking to students about their concerns and meeting with administration,” Helpard said in an interview with The Journal. 

OUSA was informally assembled in 1992 and serves as a lobby group to provincial government representatives, namely the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Deborah Matthews. The alliance now includes Queen’s, Brock, Waterloo, Laurier, Laurentian, McMaster, Trent and Western, representing almost 150,000 students.

“We have to work on all levels to make sure that whether it’s putting an issue on the government’s agenda, making sure it gets the investment it needs, or actually seeing it through implementation, that we are engaging where we need to be,” Helpard told The Journal.

For the 2017-18 school year, OUSA’s attention will be directed towards four broad topics: open educational resources, Indigenous students, accountability and system vision. The topics were presented to AMS Assembly on October 4 and will appear before OUSA General Assembly in late October. 

Among OUSA’s major accomplishments are the recommendations that helped formulate the new OSAP program, which has made post-secondary education more accessible to students of lower-income families this year. The Ontario government invested $365 million of tax credits towards student grants to make this possible. 

This year, OUSA has made policy recommendations to provincial representatives that concern mental healthcare, resulting in a province-wide investment of nine million dollars in mental health care workers on campus and a $10,000 increase in the OSAP repayment threshold. 

“At the end of the day, OUSA as an organization is one of the government’s most trusted stakeholders on post-secondary issues,” Helpard said. 

OUSA’s general assembly incorporates a nine-member Steering Committee, primary delegates for the member institutions and more representatives proportional to institution population size, with Western holding the most delegates. Each institution, however, still holds one vote within the Steering Committee. 

Victoria Lewarne, AMS Commissioner of Academic Affairs, represents Queen’s alongside Vice-President of University Affairs Palmer Lockridge on the student Steering Committee. 

“We are students ourselves, we are here every day on campus and we’re seeing the issues the students are bringing to us,” Lewarne said. “We are able to come together and find a common ground on all of them.” 

In an attempt to remain as diverse and true to student needs as possible, OUSA’s general assembly incorporates students from a broad range of “lived experiences and education backgrounds,” Helpard said. 

“We also incorporate first-year students to ensure their experiences on campus are heard too.”

Queen’s students can reach out to OUSA through Lewarne and the AMS, or directly through contact information available on the association’s website. 

According to Helpard, OUSA will meet with parliament members at Queen’s Park for Advocacy Week in November to “do some external advocacy on campus to ensure all student voices are heard.” 

“We’re all looking forward to the year ahead,” Lewarne concluded. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to work with OUSA, they do so much for the students, and it’s great to be a part of it.”

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