Grant overpayments recouped
By Sarvenaz Kermanshahi
The provincial government is on a mission to recoup money
that was given out erroneously to students over 20 years ago.
In an effort to pump an estimated $10-million back into the
system, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
is hunting down an approximate 5,600 former students who were
given grant overpayments.
“In 1999, we began sending letters. After three letters,
we gave the students’ names to a collection agency,” said
Dave Ross, spokesman for the Ministry.
According to Ross, the grant money was given out in good faith
and the students who received it should give back what they
were not entitled to. “We are confident that students
are responsible and will pay it back,” he said.
In a statement given last week before a caucus meeting, Minister
of TCU Mary Anne Chambers defended the overpayment crackdown
as a means of ensuring money is there for current students
who need it.
The government has already collected approximately $2.5-million
out of the $10-million discovered missing by the Auditor General. “To
put this in perspective, the amount [we are] seeking is more
than the entire salary and benefits of the entire staff within
a student support branch,” Ross said.
Ross added the ministry would not seek further action against
students who did not give back the money and that measures
would be taken to ensure that students’ credit lines
not be tarnished.
“The Ministry has sent a letter to the Management Board
Secretariat to tell the collection agencies not to put any
marks on the students’ credits,” he said.
The idea was frowned on by student lobby groups, however. “I
think the concept of going so far back is disappointing,” said
Adam Spence, executive director of the Ontario University Students’ Association. “Our
concept is looking ahead and improving the system in the form
of non-repayable grants.”
Spence called into question the benefits of the recollection
for current students, stating the administrative costs for
the operation were high. “The people they are targeting
were grant recipients from 20 years ago,” he added. “The
bigger question is targeting students in the future.”
Some students were disconcerted by the extreme measures taken
by the Ministry. “I think it’s over-action, as
things could be done in a more streamlined way without having
to resort to collection agencies,” said first-year psychology
student Martin Bauwens.