Private university proposal criticized

Lines have been drawn across Ontario following the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ announcement that it intends to allow private universities to be established in the province. In a move which has been toted as the single largest change since the expansion of the post-secondary system in the 1960’s, the plans would allow the establishment of privately-funded degree granting institutions in the province as well as permit Ontario community colleges to offer applied degrees on a pilot project basis.

While the community college reaction has been positive about the possibility of offered applied degrees, the decision has not been well received by the existing university community, especially by students concerned about tuition costs, accessibility and quality.

“Ontario is set to become the only province in Canada which allows private, for-profit institutions to offer the same degrees as those offered at public universities. We are not convinced that these private institutions will have the same quality and standards of existing public universities,” says Academic Affairs Commissioner Chris Henderson.

“[The AMS] does not support a proposed change that would devalue university degrees,” he added.

According to literature provided by the ministry, the province has been under pressure from for-profit operators such as the U.S.-based Apollo Group — the corporate parent of the University of Phoenix — wishing to offer privately-funded degree programs. The government also argues that the plans would assist in accommodating students in the year of the double cohort, where an estimated 90,000 students are expected to enter the post-secondary system.

Not surprisingly, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has also attacked the government’s intentions.

“If the Tories get their way there will be less government funding going into our accessible public system and it will suffer as a result,” says Brian O’Keefe CUPE Ontario secretary-treasurer.

Principal William Leggett and the AMS share similar concerns.

On May 25 the AMS executive along with Liberal Education Critic Marie Bountrogianni and Principal Leggett contacted the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to express their opposition. Each have concerns on what the announcement means for the future of post-secondary education in Ontario. Chief among them are seeming discrepancies in government funding priorities — something to which Henderson is keenly aware.

“Why is it that the Ontario government’s support for public universities ranks last in Canada on a per capita basis, and 59th out of 60 jurisdictions in North America, yet they seem to somehow be willing to subsidize new private for-profit institutions by millions of dollars per year through the OSAP system?”

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