Changing lives and sparking hope: Ontario Tuition Waiver Programme | Aga Khan Academies

Changing lives and sparking hope: Ontario Tuition Waiver Programme

“When I found out that I got the scholarship, it was a very grateful moment because it changed my whole life. The fact that I am able to get an education of this kind in Canada helps me build my future and changes my entire quality of life,” reflects Khushboo Ladhani, a graduate from the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad.

Khushboo is one of 30 students to benefit from a partnership between the Government of Ontario and the Aga Khan Academies that facilitates post-secondary education for Academies graduates in need. The students selected are able to obtain a high quality Ontario post-secondary education through a programme that waives the cost of their university tuition. This tuition waiver programme came to fruition as a result of His Highness the Aga Khan signing a historic Agreement of Cooperation with the Ontario government in May 2015, to support projects that promote pluralism, diversity and the social and economic advancement of Ontario and other parts of the world.

The purpose of the tuition waiver is to award students with the highest financial need and capacity this unique opportunity to enable their completion of an undergraduate programme in Ontario. Theresa Urist, Global Director of University Counselling, Aga Khan Academies explains:

“We were looking for students of academic promise who received at least 50% financial aid at the Academies and who were actively involved with and were making contributions to their school community…Our hope was to enable more of our students [to gain] access to a high quality education, especially for students who otherwise may not have had access to this type of education due to a lack of funds.”

The first group of students to benefit from this programme began their studies in Ontario in September 2016, including Khushboo who is studying at the University of Western Ontario and is enrolled in the Faculty of Social Science. While the transition to Canada was initially daunting for Khushboo, it was also an opportunity to get to know herself better. She shares: “I don’t have any relatives in Canada, so I was a little bit scared in the beginning [about] how I was going to handle the experience. I’ve found the country to be very welcoming and everyone is so willing to help…I’ve enjoyed the transition because I have gotten to know myself better and have met so many new people.”

In her short time in London, Ontario, Khushboo has already joined several extracurricular activities including volunteering at Merrymount Family Support and Crisis Centre, being elected to the executive team for the Ismaili Students Association as the ‘frosh representative,’ and playing indoor soccer. Khushboo explains how the tuition waiver programme has opened up doors for her:

“The tuition waiver programme has allowed me to be open to certain opportunities on campus because I know I have the support I need to be involved in them. For example, I have applied for a leadership position on campus as a residence advisor, for which I need to live on campus and was accepted for the position. Knowing I have support from the waiver program puts me at ease as I know it will open up so many doors for my future.”

The tuition waiver programme has made a tremendous impact on its recipients. “Without the tuition waiver programme, I was going to struggle attending an institution of higher education…It gave me hope and is something that has allowed me to access quality education,” shares Kelvin Njue.

Kelvin took a gap year after graduating from the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa in 2015 and interned at Diamond Trust Bank in Nairobi, assisting clients with their day-to-day banking needs and providing customers with banking solutions. Kelvin is now enrolled in the Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Toronto, aspiring to complete the Financial Economics (Specialist) programme with a minor in employment relations.

When Kelvin is not studying, he spends his time playing intramural volleyball, playing drums with students from his dormitory residence and exploring Toronto. For Kelvin, one of the biggest adjustments he had to deal with in his move to Canada was the weather: “I have been away from my family for many years attending school, so that wasn’t as difficult for me. The hardest thing for me was getting adjusted to the weather in Canada.” Kelvin has embraced the cold winters in Canada, learning to ice skate this past year.

While Kelvin enjoys his time outside of classes and seminars, he understands the importance of the tuition waiver and feels a sense of responsibility towards his family and community: “I’m grateful for this opportunity and it is an honor for me because the Academy and the Ontario government believe in me. I feel like I have a responsibility to make my community proud, to make my dad proud and everyone who has impacted my life.”

Khushboo echoes Kelvin’s sentiments, sharing the importance of the tuition waiver programme for her own family: “This scholarship means a lot, and I am very thankful to have this opportunity. I am the first child in my family who has gone abroad for an undergraduate degree, and for me that is a big deal…I think it is important for me to go back to India and give back to my community. I hope to work with women, promoting health and education in the future.”

By Karina Hussein