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EDITORIAL: It’s hardly ‘for the students’ (Winter 2019)

March 14th, 2019 · No Comments

Premier Doug Ford’s latest plan to restructure funding for post-secondary institutions would mean the average college student can look forward to saving $340 in tuition fees this September, while the average arts and science student in university can look forward to saving $660 per year. The plan, however, is little more than a reckless ruse that does nothing for the people it purports to help. The ten per cent cuts to tuition fees for colleges and universities effective in Sept. 2019, and locked down for 2020, are nothing but a shiny populist penny on a regressive policy pie.

About one-third of university revenues comes from tuition, which means these cuts will cost $360 million. Colleges, on the other hand, stand to lose $80 million. These losses will not be made up elsewhere by the government. It seems we may be witnessing another “buck a beer” moment, Premier Ford has not thought this through.

Merrilee Fullerton, minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, said the tuition cut and cap will “keep more money in the pockets of Ontario students” and even billed these measures under the banner “for the students”. One day later, the government announced drastic cuts to the OSAP student aid system. The program offering free tuition to families with incomes of less than $50,000 disappeared in an instant. The new program also converts grants to loans, and eliminates a post-graduation “grace period” on interest for student loans. But Premier Ford has no grace, and no understanding of the important role OSAP has played in helping kids from low-income families break the cycle of poverty through education.

The PCs at Queen’s Park have converted the OSAP policy, with their radical increase to potential interest-bearing student debt, to a revenue tool. The idea that OSAP is a vehicle to allow low-income families attend college or university to help break the cycle of poverty without being burdened by unsustainable debt is lost on this government.

According to the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, it does not appear that the government consulted stakeholders on these changes. Minister Fullerton told the CBC that the government spoke to “many many people about it,” but was unable to specify which people. Had student organizations and colleges and universities been directly consulted they would no doubt have argued that any revenue reduction would almost automatically result in a reduction of service, reduced staff, increased reliance on contract instructors, larger class sizes, and fewer course options.

For years now colleges and universities have sought to augment their revenue shortfalls by turning to international students who pay much higher fees unregulated by the province. What has emerged is a culture where the educational institutions see the students as paying customers.

For many decades, Ontario taxpayers were the primary funders of the post-secondary education system. The dividends of that investment should not be squandered.

The economy is changing. In November, GM announced it would shutter its manufacturing plant in Oshawa. Just two months later, it opened a technology centre in Markham that employs more than 600 engineers. Jobs like this are not easily exportable to jurisdictions where labour is cheap, and cannot be done better by robots. Without a functioning system of  higher education geared to this new economy, Ontario won’t be producing people who can fill the jobs. One would hope that the province can keep pace with these changes and not get side-tracked into an ill-advised battle with what this government perceives as irrelevant left-wing elitists.


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Tags: Annex · Editorial