Ontario universities have recently been found to have the most expensive tuition in Canada.
Average Ontario undergraduate tuition for the 2010/11 school year rose to $6,307, an increase of 5.4 per cent.
Rising tuition costs affect who is able to attend university, said Alexi White, executive director of Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA).
“Tuition impacts accessibility. High income students are twice as likely to attend university as low income students,” he said. “The chief barrier to attending university is finance.”
White said high tuition costs cripple students by putting them in severe debt.
“Even if there is financial aid, many people don’t know about it. High tuition costs cause students to be in debt, which affects them when they are looking for a job, buying a house — it affects them throughout life,” he said. “And of course, many students don’t even attend university because of high tuition.” White said both the problem and the solution come from the government.
“The government sets the limit of how high tuition can be, and universities go to the limit because they need the money,” White said. “We advocate directly with cabinet and premiere offices and are constantly in touch. Students need to contact their local representatives and say, ‘This is a problem.’ ”
It’s not a problem without a solution though. “In Nova Scotia universities had the highest tuition, and now it’s the lowest,” White said. “With the government investing, lowering tuition is possible.”
Mark Coffin, the executive director of the Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations said government funding replaces part of what students pay in tuition.
“We have an agreement where the government increases funding by $30 million a year, so the government is paying what students would have been paying in tuition,” he said. “However, the next three years are much more uncertain.”
Constant lobbying helped convince the Nova Scotia government to invest in its universities to help lower tuition, he said.
“We were really active in lobbying our government. Because of the small size of the province, it’s easy to access politicians.”
While both undergraduate and postgraduate student enrollment continues to rise in Nova Scotia universities, Coffin said it’s not easy to imply causation between low tuition and high enrollment.
“Enrollment has increased, but we aren’t sure why. Because of the recession people come to school to get more credentials anyways,” he said.
Not all universities in Nova Scotia have been positively affected by government funding though. Smaller universities, such as King’s College, are struggling with budgeting because of the way that the $30 million has been distributed, Coffin said.
Former King’s College student Anne Goodman was not able to return to King’s this year because tuition was too high for out-of-province students.
“The government helps out students in Nova Scotia, but it’s more expensive for out of province and international students because there’s an added cost to tuition,” she said.
King’s relies heavily on donors and due to the recession the school is struggling, since it didn’t receive as many donations in recent years, she said. There were also fewer resources and more cut programs at King’s College as opposed to its sister school, Dalhousie University.
Rising tuition is a problem that also plagues Queen’s students.
Financial aid should be available so there are no barriers to access university, Chris Rudnicki, AMS vice-president (university affairs), said.
“Our view is that two thirds of the real cost of education should be paid for by government, and one third by students,” he said.
The Waterloo Record reported this month that the government currently pays close to half the cost of an Ontario university education.
Only the government has the power to lower university tuition costs, but students can lobby their governments to implement change.
“All tuition is regulated through government. We have constant links with government to try and get these ideas across,” Rudnicki said, adding that the AMS had a meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty last year to discuss rising tuition costs.
University Registrar Jo-Anne Brady told the Journal in an e-mail that while the government strives to fund universities and enrollment growth, the cost of delivering an education is constantly rising, and the government has competing priorities. She said the University has to balance funding from tuition and from outside sources.
“Tuition fees represent a revenue stream to universities and combined with government grant funding, represent almost the total revenue available for universities.”
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