So I see that the Government of Ontario has announced what is possibly the most boutique student aid program of all time. If students volunteer at the 2014-15 PanAm Games, they will be exempted from the pre-study period contribution (a contribution from the money you earn up to 16 weeks prior to the start of your studies) for 2015-16, and will be get a 12-month grace period on their loans (instead of 6-month) before needing to start repayment.
<puts computer away>
<sighs, drinks some Red Bull, looks out the window wistfully>
<slams head against desk violently, yelling “WHY? WHY MUST THIS PROVINCE BE GOVERNED SO BADLY? WHY?>
<Breathes deeply. Opens computer again>
OK, three things here. Three things every politician in the country desperately needs to understand:
1) Exploiting Unpaid Labour =/= Encouraging Voluntarism. If it’s mandatory – as in “mandatory volunteering hours in high school” – it’s not volunteering. If you pay for it in kind, it’s not volunteering. This kind of thing demeans the notion of actual volunteering.
Oh wait, you’re worried that you’re asking someone to do too much for nothing? Then PAY THEM, you gibbering moron. Pay them for their work. It’s not hard: we’ve been doing it since the end of serfdom.
2) Stop Using Student Aid as an Indirect Government Policy Tool. This seems to be in everyone’s playbook these days. Not enough money in the PanAm kitty because you’ve blown it all on buying out incompetent executives? Use student aid as a way to attract cheap labour! Having trouble filling rural nursing or legal aid positions? Use student loan forgiveness as a recruitment tool!
No. No, no, no! Student aid is about giving money to students to complete their studies. If you want to play labour market games, do so directly. Problem finding nurses for rural areas? Have the damn Health Ministry pay them more. Otherwise, you’re sending the message that you only want nurses from poorer families – the ones whose parents couldn’t give them enough money to keep them off student loans – to work in rural areas.
3) No More Boutique Programs. Student aid is already way too complicated. Governments are collectively throwing $5.6 billion into student subsidies – that is, about 78% of the value of domestic tuition fees (institutions throw in another $1.6 billion on top of that). And yet everyone thinks the cost of education is sky-high: students and parents simply do not understand the subsidies they are being given. That is a clear sign of policy failure.
Basically, if you’re thinking up boutique policy in student aid you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution. I realise this may come as a shock to the Ontario Liberals, who appear not to know any way to govern other than through policy boutiquery, but it’s true. The priority for the coming years must be to simplify the system, not to tack on more bells and whistles. Period.
Got that, politicos? Pay the kids for their work, keep student aid simple, and tell the other ministries to stop using student aid as a way to backstop their own policy failures. Stick to those three rules, and you’ll do all right.