Newfies call a cheap deal with premier
By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
Finding out about debt has never been so affordable for students in Newfoundland.
In an attempt to implement a province-wide toll-free financial aid telephone line which would replace a 1-900 number, the students' union at Memorial University and the Canadian Federation of Students joined forces and made a bid to Premier Brian Tobin in an October meeting.
MSU VP-external relations Randy Miller said the phone line was free to students in St. John's yet there were many complaints from those living in rural areas who were paying charges of 50 cents for the first minute and 45 cents for each additional minute. Students were also frequently kept on hold for up to 20 minutes which resulted in phone bills over $40.
Premier Tobin agreed in the middle of the meeting to change the number which came into effect Nov. 7. "I was amazed at how fast they moved on it," Miller said.
"This is a nice first step but the provincial government will have to do much more," said national chair of CFS, Brad Lavinge. "We need to concentrate on the 20 per cent youth unemployment rate in Newfoundland and the 18 per cent tuition increase."
Cal Cooper, director of public relations for the Newfoundland Ministry of Education, said they realized there was a problem with the 1-900 number and the premier quickly put the wheels in motion to set up the toll-free number. Future plans include beefing up the line for students with additional options and increased accessibility.
Ontario currently has a 1-900 number set up by the province to deal with enquiries regarding the Ontario Student Assistance Program which costs a flat rate of $2 per call.
Richard Jackson, senior policy advisor with the post-secondary division at the Ontario Ministry of Education, said the province has no intention of changing to a toll-free number because it operates with an automated attendant and can service up to 12 people at one time. Callers numbered 13 and up will receive a busy signal.
In addition to this service, the province has also provided all universities with the correct software and the opportunity to have on-line access to a mainframe computer at the OSAP head office, Jackson said. The cost of line charges are paid by the province.
Rob Tiffin, deputy registrar at Western, said their office encourages students to access information regarding a loan through the Ministry's website to by-pass charges incurred by the OSAP hotline.