Province sets tuition hikes in motion

In a long-awaited tuition framework announcement, the provincial government unveiled plans on Wednesday for Ontario university and college tuition following a two-year freeze.

The government announced a 4.5 per cent cap per year on first-year tuition increases for Arts and Science students, a four per cent cap on tuition increases for upper-year Arts and Science students, an eight per cent cap per year on tuition increases for first-year professional school students, and a four per cent increase for upper year professional students per year.

The framework also stipulated that the average percentage increase in tuition for an institution cannot exceed five per cent.

“The tuition framework is regulated, it’s capped, it’s predictable,” Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Chris Bentley told the Journal. “We tried to come up with a framework that provided the additional money needed in the system, but was as reasonable and fair as possible.”

Following the announcement, many student organizations focused on the tuition increases.

AMS VP (University Affairs) Shiva Mayer agreed.

“I’m personally disappointed and quite surprised, actually,” he said. “They didn’t cap tuition at [the consumer price index] and they didn’t commit to the 30:70 cost-sharing arrangement that we’re striving towards.”

Mayer said he is also confused that while the Council of Ontario Universities was pushing for tuition increases along the lines of “university inflation,” considered to be about four per cent—approximately double the current consumer price index (CPI), which is 1.9 per cent—the tuition caps proposed in the framework don’t reflect that.

“All the numbers in the announcement are above that,” he said. “I don’t know how the government came to these conclusions.”

Scott Courtice, executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Alliance (OUSA), said he is also disappointed by the decision.

“Ontario students are already paying proportionally more of university operating costs than any other students in other provinces,” he said.

Bentley said the current funding arrangement is a vast improvement over the situation under Mike Harris’ Conservative government, during which time, for each extra dollar students were spending on tuition, the government was cutting 15 cents of funding.

“We froze tuition for two years because we’d recognized that there had been galloping tuition for two years,” he said. “For every $3 the people of Ontario are investing, we’re asking students to contribute one extra dollar.”

Courtice said the new policy still falls short of OUSA’s expectations.

“I think [the government] feel that their investments in the last budget were good, that they think that everybody needs to do more,” he said. “We’d argue students have already been doing more over the past 10 to 15 years, and that the government now has to come to the table.”

Courtice said that while Ontario students currently pay 44 per cent of the operating costs of their university, OUSA wants to bring that down to the Canadian average of 30 per cent. The current framework fails to promote this goal, he said.

“The plan that we presented during consultations would have allowed us to reach that goal by 2011,” he said. “The way that they’re investing now, we won’t get there until 2070.”

Principal Karen Hitchcock said she thinks the caps are a good idea because they take into account the 4.6 per cent “higher education price index,” a higher inflation rate faced by universities. The reasoning behind this is that, because universities and colleges spend more on products such as high-tech equipment and energy, they are faced with a higher inflation rate than the average consumer.

Hitchcock said that if tuition doesn’t rise to cover that inflation, universities will suffer.

Bentley said the regulated increases are necessary to achieve higher education quality and fulfill the recommendations of last year’s Rae Review.

“What Bob Rae found was that compared to other provinces or peer jurisdictions in the States, the funding from both government and students needed to be increased,” he said. “We were trying to get to the type of additional income that Bob Rae outlined was necessary, but we were trying to maintain it as reasonable as possible.”

He added that the significantly higher caps on professional school tuition was based on professional school’s need for increased resources in order to create lower student-faculty ratios and compete for faculty with schools around Canada.

Simon Kiss, SGPS VP (external), disagreed.

“We express total opposition to the increase in tuition fees,” he said. “Tuition fees should be going down.”

Kiss rejected suggestions that there was a need to increase tuition fees to keep up with inflation.

“Tuition fees have outstripped inflation for the past 10 years,” he said. “The best way to make sure that post-secondary education is accessible is to lower tuition fees—period.”

One concern expressed by OUSA, the AMS and the SGPS is the fact that OSAP wouldn’t be linked to tuition increases.

“The fact that there is no commitment to improving financial aid immediately is a huge problem in terms of the access,” Mayer said. “I was almost certain that the government realized the crucial link between tuition and financial aid.”

Courtice agreed.

“Though they’ve made some significant investments in student financial assistance, there’s no guarantee that the OSAP system will keep pace with the increases in tuition,” he said.

Another aspect of the framework is the creation of a Higher Education Quality Council. Institutions will sign multi-year agreements with the province, in which the province guarantees them a certain amount of funding for that period on the condition that certain goals of accessibility and quality of education are met.

“We don’t think students should be asked for money unless it improves the quality of their education,” Bentley said. “If it starts slipping, then that’s something we’re going to have to act on.”

Bentley said the Higher Education Quality Council would be an independent advisory body.

“If you’re not going to use the money for the purpose for which it’s intended, you shouldn’t have the money or we’ve got to take corrective action,” he said, adding that he hasn’t yet determined what that corrective action would be.

Courtice said he thinks it’s a good idea to hold institutions accountable, and that OUSA will lobby for a significant voice for students in the multi-year agreement process between the province and the institutions.

He added, however, that he thinks cutting funds for to schools that aren’t up to standards would be a step in the wrong direction.

“It would be unfortunate, if a university isn’t performing, to cut the grants, because ultimately that would end up harming students,” he said.

Outgoing Rector Grant Bishop said he feels it’s very important to track the effects of tuition increases on accessibility of university education for students with limited means.

“We do have some data collection here at Queen’s, but it is not of the detail necessary,” he said. “I think you really have to be looking at students’ economic background to have an appropriate resolution of that. Otherwise you can say you’re giving out financial aid but there’s no resolution of who you’re giving it out to or who is coming to the University.”

ASUS President Brad Hammond agreed.

“When they deregulated the other professional programs on campuses around Ontario, socio-economic data describing access was not kept, so we really don’t know the full effect that tuition increases have had on access,” he said. “I think that’s a little bit irresponsible on behalf of the University and the ministry. We definitely need to know what the price tag of university does for people who want to come here and get the most out of a Queen’s education.”

The new tuition framework will discontinue the current set-aside policy, under which 30 per cent of revenue from increased tuition goes to student bursaries.

Bishop said he thinks the set-aside funding arrangement helped mitigate the impact of tuition increases, and is worried that following its cancellation, there will be a dearth of financial support for students.

Mayer, on the other hand, was more supportive of the decision.

“I think it’s a good thing that they got rid of the set-aside, because quite frankly it was born out of a period of fiscal crisis for Ontario universities,” he said. “It has helped some students in financial need, through bursaries, scholarships and work-study positions, but on the flip side of that it’s also driven up tuition costs for all students across the board. The ideal long-term solution to the inequities of this problem would be to reform the entire system of student assistance.”

Hitchcock said she believes the program’s cancellation is a good idea, as it allows universities to make their own decisions on student support.

“You have to calculate what the need is, first, and then put the money toward the need,” she said. “The end point’s the same: you’re looking to meet the unmet need of the student.”

AMS President Ethan Rabidoux said student government will have to ensure that, if tuition goes up, student financial aid does as well.

“If tuition does increase exorbitantly, or even at all, then bursaries have to go up accordingly,” he said. “In [the administration’s] ideal world, and they’ve made no bones about this, they will see tuition totally deregulated and totally set by the local administration.

“If they say they can still keep university accessible despite higher tuition fees, then they will have a chance to prove it.”

Kiss said grad students “won’t put up” with a tuition increase.

“It’s unacceptable for the grad school here at Queen’s to raise tuition,” he said. “If they do raise tuition without raising the minimum funding package for PhD students, they had better be able to contend with a successful TA union drive next year.”

Hitchcock said she doesn’t know yet whether Queen’s tuition will rise, and if so, by how much. She said both faculty-specific and campus-wide consultations will take place in the near future, adding that the administration is “firmly committed” to preserving accessibility.

Hitchcock also acknowledged that student response might be “overwhelmingly” against tuition increases. She said if this were the case, that opinion would be taken into account, but students would also be encouraged to consider the consequences of not increasing tuition.

“If we thought that the students all wanted no tuition [increase], and we thought that there might be damage to the institution, we’d have to think about that very hard,” she said. “We have to say, ‘Access to what?’”

Rabidoux said the onus is on student representatives to maintain pressure on university administration and the provincial government to keep universities accessible.

“No matter what, we always have to keep the pressure on,” he said. “The pressure’s always on in the opposite direction to deregulate, to privatize ... we have to continue to fight for university accessibility.”

What tuition could look like

If Ontario universities raise tuition to the maximum caps set by the government, this is what a four-year degree could cost:Queen’sUniversity of Toronto

Arts and Science
* First year: $5,199.70
* Second year: $5,407.69
* Third year: $5,624
* Fourth year: $5,848.96

Applied Science
* First year: $8,234.05
* Second year: $8,563.41
* Third year: $8,905.95
* Fourth year: $9,262.19

Law School
* First year: $10,671.57
* Second year: $11,098.43
* Third year: $11,542.37
* Fourth year: $12,004.06

Arts and Science
* First year: $4373.33
* Second year: $4548.26
* Third year: $4730.19
* Fourth year: $4919.40

Applied Science
* First year: $7560
* Second year: $7862.40
* Third year: $8176.90
* Fourth year: $8503.97

Law School
* First year: $17,280
* Second year: $17,971.20
* Third year: $18,690.05
* Fourth year: $19,437.65

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.