The Ontario Student Assistant Program (OSAP) mobile application is challenging the traditional image of government being technologically behind the times and is making it easier for students to access college and university education with more financial aid options than ever before.
The mobile OSAP app, introduced in January 2011, was the first interactive app of its kind for the Ontario government. The app can be used to access OSAP information using over 300 models of smartphones currently available in the market, meaning students applying for OSAP can find out how much they can expect to receive from OSAP anywhere, anytime.
It is projected that, by the end of 2012, over 80 percent of Canadians will have access to a mobile phone that can browse the Internet. For many students, their smartphones are their primary, and preferred, way to access the Internet, either for convenience or as their only mobile wireless device.
Obtaining student financial assistance can be a life-changing event. OSAP wanted to give busy and tech-savvy students smartphone access to its online applications system, allowing them to get up-to-date information. Now, checking the status of an OSAP application is as easy as posting on Facebook or Twitter.
Working collaboratively, the Community Services I&IT Cluster (CSC), the Student Financial Assistance Branch that manages OSAP in the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU) and the Cabinet Office, with support from Ontario Shared Services, successfully developed and deployed the OSAP mobile application in front of a group of students at Carleton University. During the launch event, a student was chosen randomly from the crowd to try out the new mobile application and it worked perfectly.
OSAP mobile won a prix Realm award for innovation, received an honourable mention from ITAC, and received a Showcase merit award in the category of small projects with big impact.
Taking a step back, in 2010, OSAP launched one of Canada’s largest (possibly the largest) secure online government applications systems. The new OSAP app builds on a 15-year history of OSAP success online, and greatly improved the way students submit their OSAP financial assistance application electronically, with a secure user ID and password, and get other academic and financial information to help them plan their future.
The mobile app was a small project with a budget of under $100,000 and a timeline of just two and half months. It was an immediate success, and has had a big impact for the application users. Every month, there are over one million hits and over 490,000 mobile views.
The OSAP mobile app has now transformed how Ontarians can access their government. Its development led to the establishment of the first ever Ontario government IT standard for mobile devices websites. It is also the first for any Canadian student financial assistance program. The project team is being consulted by other ministries interested in developing mobile applications.
As well as making it easier for current and prospective students to find the information they need to plan for their future, the app is also expected to save staff time by reducing the number of telephone calls and in-person inquiries to OSAP offices.
“The OSAP mobile application is a testament to the ‘can-do spirit’ of TCU and, more importantly, the ability of OPS staff to come up with in-house solutions when challenged and resourced to do so,” said Noah Morris, director of the Student Financial Assistance Branch, Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. “It is also a great example of the teamwork between staff in the ministry and the I&IT cluster who worked together towards common solutions. I cannot commend highly enough the dedication, enthusiasm and success of the OSAP mobile application project.”
Going mobile is just one of the recent OSAP improvements making life easier for Ontario students. The new OSAP Express process, just launched in September 2012, streamlines the loan agreement and enrolment confirmation process, by taking manual, paper-based processes online. OSAP Express means that students no longer need to stand in line to get access to their funds. OSAP will continue to innovate and explore ways to provide the best service possible to students, so they can better understand what financial aid is available sooner, plan better and focus more on their studies.
Soussan Tabari is the chief information officer for the Learning Ministries (Training, Colleges and Universities) as well as Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sports and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.