Want free university? Changes to OSAP, Canada Student Grants could help.

An in-depth guide to new financial aid programs offered by provincial governments from British Columbia to New Brunswick
Charlotte Ottaway
Campus life at the University of Toronto. (Photograph by Andrew Tolson)
Campus life at the University of Toronto. (Photograph by Andrew Tolson)
Campus life at the University of Toronto. (Photograph by Andrew Tolson)

Alisha Gordon, an Indigenous undergraduate at the University of Calgary, will have less than $1,000 in student debt at the end of her four-year degree. Like many students in Canada, she’s benefited from the federal and provincial governments’ efforts to reduce the cost of an education. Gordon received a grant for low-income students from the Alberta government as well as the Indigenous Careers Award to help pay for her final year of tuition. This, together with the Belcourt Brosseau Métis Award—which covers nearly 90 per cent of her tuition and post-secondary fees every year—will allow her to graduate with a limited financial burden. “My parents are deceased, and I have younger brothers, so for me, being in debt is something that really stresses me out,” says Gordon.

Earning a post-secondary education means a financial strain for many Canadians. Approximately 50 per cent report having student debt, according to a 2015 survey by the Canadian University Survey Consortium. Among those surveyed, the average amount stands at $26,819, with 29 per cent of all students reporting debt of $20,000 or more. Those numbers may seem daunting, but the past few years have seen renewed efforts to reduce the cost. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during the 2015 federal election to make post-secondary education more affordable. To that end, the federal government in 2016 increased the maximum Canada Student Grant for low-income students to $3,000 per year for full-time students and to $1,800 per year for part-time students. In addition, the updated Repayment Assistance Plan ensures recent graduates with student loans will not be required to pay back any other funds until they are earning an income of at least $25,000 per year. The federal government will continue to cover the interest on student loans until this time.

Meanwhile, Alberta is already seeing an uptake in admission at colleges and universities across the province thanks to the provincial government’s tuition freeze, which began in 2015 and has been extended through to the 2018-2019 academic year. The province is also amongst the most generous in awarding scholarships and awards in the country, granting more than $97 million each year to Albertan students.

Recently, Alberta expanded its student loan program with changes to eligibility criteria, such as no longer considering a spouse’s income as a factor. The province also doubled the value of low-income grants to student loan borrowers, and implemented new awards for indigenous students. “As a result [of the changes], we’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of students who have taken advantage of the student loan program,” says Marlin Schmidt, Minister of Advanced Education in Alberta.

Ontario is also making significant changes to support Indigenous students, who will no longer need to pay the $3,000 annual contribution that students are usually required to make towards their education and living expenses. The province is also now accepting applications for the rebooted Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), which makes tuition free for students whose families make less than $50,000 a year—nearly a third of the province’s post-secondary students. “Everybody in Ontario can now afford to go to university or college; finances will no longer be a barrier,” says Deb Matthews, Ontario’s Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development.

In addition, the government will no longer deduct Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) totals from student aid applications. Plus, the application process has been streamlined, with an online calculator that quickly determines the eligibility of applicant for financial assistance. “People have been tweeting about how easy it is to apply now, and how thrilled they are to be getting the support they need,” Matthews says.

Students will receive their money sooner, too, with a percentage disbursed before the start of the school year for those who submit their applications on time. And starting in 2018, recent graduates in Ontario won’t have to begin repaying their loans—and won’t accumulate any interest—until they earn $35,000 a year. “I call it the new deal for students; they have to work hard, they have to get the marks, they have to get accepted,” says Matthews. “But then we’re going to make sure that money doesn’t stand in the way.”



  • Federally, the Canada Student Grant provides up to $3,000 to eligible, low-income students, for total support of $5,000 per year for eligible students, beginning in 2017-18.
  • Alberta’s low -income grant increased to $250 per month of study from $120 per month for eligible full-time students from low-income families in undergraduate or certificate programs of one year or less in length.
    • Completed applications must be received at least 30 days before your session end date.


  • New Brunswick’s free tuition bursary will provide upfront, non-repayable assistance for students with gross household incomes of $60,000 or less.
    • Eligible students must be attending publicly funded college or university programs in New Brunswick.
    • Students will automatically be assessed for the eligibility when applying for New Brunswick student financial assistance funding online.
  • In Ontario, the average university or college tuition will be free for students with financial need whose household incomes are $50,000 or less.
    • Find out how much student assistance you are eligible for using the OSAP calculator.
    • To apply, submit your OSAP application no later than 60 days before the end of your study period. You’ll receive the first installment when you start your study period (usually in September).
  • With the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship, all Saskatchewan grade 12 graduates automatically receive $500 per year, to a maximum of $2,000, to reduce tuition costs at a Saskatchewan post-secondary education.
  • In British Columbia, Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning programs are now tuition-free.


  • Under the new OSAP, students with family incomes of $90,000 or less will receive grants to cover or exceed the average tuition cost.
    • Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) will no longer affect the financial assistance students receive.
    • Mature students (anyone out of high school for four years or more) will receive the same access to OSAP support as younger students.


  • Alberta’s Indigenous Careers Award offers $2,000 per semester, and a maximum of $4,000 per academic year.
  • Alberta also offers an Indigenous Graduate Award presenting a minimum of $7,500 and maximum of $15,000 awarded to students enrolled in a master’s or doctoral degree program approved by the Minister of Advanced Education.
    • Eligible students must be Status Indian/First Nations (or be able to provide a copy of proof of Indigenous ancestry) with at least 60 per cent of a full course load.
    • Apply through the Student Awards or Scholarship Office at your school, and contact your school for deadline dates.


  • British Columbia has made provincial student loans interest-free and created a $1,000 grant for post-secondary students who complete their studies.
    • Contact the National Student Loans Service Centre at 1-888-815-4514 for more information on repaying your student loans.
  • Starting in 2018, recent graduates in Ontario can wait until they earn $35,000 a year before beginning to repay the provincial portion of their student loans.
  • Saskatchewan’s Graduate Retention Plan (GRP) provides a tax credit of up to $20,000 to eligible post-secondary graduates who live and file an income tax return in Saskatchewan.