Many of these student associations had recently left the Canadian Federation of Students. They argued that the CFS pursued too many social causes at the expense of core student issues, that their demand for zero tuition fees was unrealistic, that their advocacy methods were too radical and that the organization had become dictatorial and staff-heavy.
OUSA's early proposals called for an increase in government funding to universities. More controversially, however, OUSA called for an increase in student tuition fees in exchange for this increase in public funding. At the time OUSA also supported the implementation of an Income-Contingent Loan Repayment Plan. An ICLRP plan would make the rate of repayment of a student's loan dependent on their income. Advocates see these plans as a way to reduce student default rates on their loans and make loan payments affordable, while opponents believe they will be used to justify significant tuition fee increases. The Alliance now opposes income contingent loan programs and tuition fee increases.
Due to some of its proposals, and because two of OUSA's former executive directors were hired by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities after their service with the Alliance (Barry McCartan, Executive Director, 1997-98, and Andrew Boggs, 1998-99), OUSA has faced charges that it is at times too close to the government Both Boggs and McCartan work in the public service, not political, side of the Ministry and retain their positions regardless of the government in power. Others, however, argue that this indicates that OUSA's more professional, policy-based lobbying style has earned the trust of the government.
OUSA's early success was in 1995, when its advocacy was responsible for the creation of the Ancillary Fee Protocol with government led by New Democratic Party of Ontario with Bob Rae as its leader. This protocol meant increases in ancillary fees must be subject to a referendum, and ended the practise of universities of raising ancillary fees to circumvent the tuition fee controls set by the government.
OUSA was less successful dealing with the right-wing Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris, which cut funding to universities and significantly raised tuition fee levels at Ontario universities, including a highly controversial "deregulation" of tuition in many professional and graduate programs. Despite dealing with an antagonistic government, OUSA was able to persuade the government to establish the Ontario Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, a permanent advisory board including student and university representation in 1998, and notable improvements to provincial student financial aid (1999, 2000). Over this period, OUSA also brought together the various stake holding groups (including competing student groups, faculty, staff and alumni organizations) in the university sector for the first time. Chaired by then-Executive Director Andrew Boggs, this coalition worked on issues of common interest, including election campaigns and information sharing.
More recently, OUSA has claimed credit for the four-year freeze in 'real' tuition fee levels announced by then-Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Dianne Cunningham in 2001, along with other provincial higher education advocacy groups. OUSA has had more success dealing with the Liberal government led by Dalton McGuinty, and, with the guidance of then-Executive Director Adam Spence, is credited with a number of the policy proposals included in a report on post-secondary education written by former-premier Bob Rae], particularly his call for grants for low-income students.
Part-time students at the University of Toronto have withdrawn from the Alliance, as did Queen's (from 1995 to 2001) citing concerns over the organizations management in the mid-1990s. Queen's then rejoined the Alliance as an associate member in 2001 and then as a full member in 2004.
Over the past several years, under the guidance of Scott Courtice, OUSA has been a leader in building informal alliances with other 'like minded' provincial groups and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations to lobby the Federal government and the Council of the Federation. This cooperation has resulted in several joint initiatives, including media events and government submissions.