The Ontario Medical Students’ Association (OMSA) applauds the Ontario provincial government’s efforts to make education accessible to all Ontario residents. The tuition structure of postsecondary education, and especially professional programs like medical school, have too long favoured students from high income earning families. While many additional financial barriers exist to entering medical school, high tuition costs can deter individuals from low income earning families from even considering medicine as a viable career option. OMSA has recently officially recommended specific steps that Ontario medical schools can take to improve the disparity in medical schools. That position paper can be found here.
The Ontario government’s changes to the student financial support system might improve accessibility to undergraduate education and, indirectly, to medical schools. However, the potential impact of these changes on medical students themselves remains murky. Many medical school classes are composed of students from medium to high income earning families. The new Ontario Student Grants may threaten funding to some of these students. On the surface, decreasing funding to students mostly from high income earning families may not appear to threaten the overall accessibility or affordability of medical education. However, the financial cost of medical school far outstrips the support most medical students receive. According to the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) Graduate Questionnaire, nearly 40% of Canada’s medical students report graduating with more than $80,000 in debt.
Therefore, OMSA keenly awaits the release of detailed information about the changes in student aid from the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU). Until clarity is achieved, on one hand, it appears that allowing medical students full access to the new OSG funding may assist mature students and students from families earning less than $160,000 per year. The degree to which the new OSG funding will support these students and perhaps even reduce their debt burden remains unclear. Previous components of provincial funding that were once not accessible to medical students including the ‘30% off’ Ontario Tuition Grant will become accessible to medical students when the OSG is initiated in 2017-2018. As a result, grant funding to students from low income families and mature students may increase. For example, 50% of medical students from families earning less than $83,000 will receive grants in excess of tuition. Average annual tuition at medical schools in Ontario now exceeds $23,600.
On the other hand, removal of the education tax credit threatens the small incomes medical students make doing extracurricular research and the accrued tax relief of high tuition payments. Residents currently use the tuition credit tax relief accrued during medical school to help make ends meet during the lean postgraduate years when debt interest payments may be hundreds of dollars per month.
Most problematically, access to the OSG will be limited to 4 years of eligibility. Each year a student has previously received Ontario Tuition Grant support will eliminate one year of OSG eligibility. The 4-year limit will immediately exclude many medical students. Unfortunately, the excluded medical students will be those whose financial situation is dire enough to have required grant funding for their (much cheaper) undergraduate education. These students become the medical students most in need of support. Prohibiting their access to the OSG program may threaten to increase the debt load of this key demographic.
Finally, medical students from families earning over $160,000 per year may initially appear to require less support; however, leaving these students to bear the full brunt of tuition fee increases threatens to inflate already large medical student debt burdens. According to a 2012 study by Grayson et al in Medical Education, higher medical student debt burden may lead students away from careers in primary care. Therefore, more clarity from the MTCU is required before OMSA can interpret how the new OSG will affect these students and the future of the health care system as a whole.
OMSA applauds the government’s intentions to make postsecondary education available to all but calls on the MCTU to make the OSG fully accessible for all medical students for the duration of their medical education. We will remain cautious in supporting these changes until further details are released. We hope to receive this information in a timely manner before the implementation of the program well in advance of the 2017-2018 academic year.
Director of Education, OMSA