Provincial policy changes in the works

OUSA and AMS weigh-in on tuition framework options

AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Kieran Slobodin
Image by: Justin Tang
AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Kieran Slobodin

With the current tuition policy framework for Ontario’s colleges and universities set to expire in the 2012-13 academic year, the province is looking for new alternatives.

Recently, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) released a list of tuition framework options—the fee cap approach, the shares approach, constrained deregulation and full deregulation.

Ontario Undergraduate Student Association (OUSA) Executive Director Alexi White said the province currently uses the fee cap approach.

“It tells the institution exactly how much they can increase tuition by,” he said, adding that the cap is currently set so that universities cannot increase their tuition by more than five per cent per year.

“This is the option that we have traditionally lobbied for based on the interests of our students,” White said.

However, in recent years the balance between what the government pays and what students pay has shifted, and White said this has caused OUSA to shift its approach. He said student tuition should be paying for approximately 45 per cent of the University’s operating budget, but Queen’s students are paying approximately two thirds. Thus, White said the shares approach is one that OUSA now sees as their long-term vision for tuition.

“This approach kind of looks at how much tuition is needed,” he said.

The shares approach establishes a maximum share that tuition can be of total college and university operating revenue. If the current share is below this figure, tuition fees would increase more than grant increases but there would be a ceiling rate on the increase each year. If the current share is below the target, tuition fees would rise slower than grants until the target was reached. Changes to tuition fees and grants each year would therefore depend on perceived revenue needs.

However, one of the disadvantages to this approach is that that the rate becomes arbitrary and therefore tuition from year to year may vary.

Another suggestion for the tuition policy framework is constrained deregulation, which provides universities with a high fee cap allowing them a fair amount of discretion when setting tuition. Higher rates of tuition for certain programs are justified based on the presumption that graduates from the program would have higher average earnings and employment rates over their working lives.

White said this has never happened at the university level in Ontario, although it has been done for certain programs, including engineering and medicine. The problem with this approach is that the students fund a disproportionate amount of the university operating budget.

The last option is full deregulation, which allows the institution to set the tuition at which ever amount they’d like with no overall tuition cap. White said this would hinder the accessibility of students wanting to attend the institution. This is because adopting such an approach would most likely result in higher fees. However, on the flip side, the higher tuition rates would allow universities to allocate more funding to financial aid.

Kieran Slobodin, AMS academic affairs commissioner, said the benefit of a fee cap approach is that it allows for predictability, while the shared approach can allow for a large difference in tuition from year to year. This could mean that although students save money in tuition one year, they may be spending a lot more the next.

“In the case of the shares approach, the provincial government decides who will determine which percentage of the tuition fee comes from the student and how much the government will fund.

“Of the frameworks in HEQCO’s report it would be a combination of shared and fee cap. Students should be paying no more than a reasonable share of their tuition (approximated at one third by OUSA) and tuition fees should be capped at the lowest reasonable level to ensure affordability.”

Slobodin said that in terms of student input, the best ways for students to be aware of the issues in regards to tuition is to exercise their democratic power.

“OUSA does try to lobby the budget and stress what students need in terms of tuition.”

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