May 20, 2004  
Volume 98, Issue 01  

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Grant overpayments recouped

By Sarvenaz Kermanshahi
Gazette Staff

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.



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