Education bang for your buck

Liberals’ funding track record

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane says maintaining universities’ current funding levels is no longer enough.
Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane says maintaining universities’ current funding levels is no longer enough.
Journal File Photo

Parties vying for first spot in the provincial election should rethink the way the Ontario government funds post-secondary institutions, said a spokesperson for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

“Under the Liberals … for every dollar students get in a grant, $1.30 is clawed back through tuition increases,” said Joel Duff. “It’s unfortunate that the Liberal platform is sticking to the ‘Reaching Higher’ plan, because it’s a disaster.”

The CFS wants the government to roll back tuition fees to their 2004-05 levels and double the number of grants available to students.

“Student debt has gone up 350 per cent over the past 15 years,” Duff said. “Today, [average student debt] is approaching $28,000.”

Ontario has the second-highest tuition fees in the country.

Students pay for about 40 per cent of their education, with the government footing the bill for the other 60 per cent.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) is lobbying for students to pay 30 per cent, with the government paying 70 per cent.

The 30/70 ratio would bring Ontario’s tuition fees to the national average, said OUSA President David Simmonds.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done … talking with all three parties with looking beyond tuition and talking about the real cost of education,” Simmonds said.

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations is calling for an additional $1.6 billion in annual funding to the universities, which its president Brian Brown has said is necessary to enable the province’s universities to continue providing quality education to a burgeoning growing student population.

Jim Wilson, Progressive Conservative critic for training, colleges and universities and MPP for Simcoe-Grey, called the provincial tuition freeze—ended in 2006—“artificial.” “You’d be better to average out the increase and spread it out fairly over the years,” Wilson said.

He said the Progressive Conservatives would cap the maximum student debt at $7,000. Right now there is no cap on student debt.

Wilson criticized the government’s “Reaching Higher” program, which promises to spend $6.2 billion on education through to 2009-10.

“They’ve not spent $6.2 billion. They’re complete liars,” he said. “For all their barking they’ve really not changed the system at all.”

Rosario Marchese, NDP critic for training, colleges and universities and MPP for Trinity-Spadina, said student debt is rising at an alarming rate.

“The tuition freeze [the government] gave for two years was effectively nullified by the tuition increases.”

He said the NDP would return tuition fees to their 2003 levels and freeze them there, which would cost $250 million.

“The savings would be about $435 per year, per student,” Marchese said. “This is a commitment we feel we need to make.” Marchese said the Liberal government doesn’t have a record it can be proud of.

“[Ontario is] the richest province in Canada … when tuition fees are almost the highest in the country, it’s a double whammy.”

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Tanya Blazina defended the government’s “Reaching Higher” program.

The provincial government introduced tuition caps with a “Student Access Guarantee” that all qualified students should receive post-secondary education, Blazina said.

“[We] want Ontario’s students to have access to the best post-secondary education in Canada. Our province’s future depends on it.” In March 2006 the provincial government introduced a new tuition framework regulating how much post-secondary institutions could increase fees every year.

The changes took effect last year.

Tuition fee increases for first-year programs are capped at 4.5 per cent for the Faculty of Arts and Science faculty and eight per cent for graduate and professional programs including medicine, law, commerce and applied science.

Fee increases for upper-years are capped at four per cent across the board.

Overall, the tuition increase average for an institution is capped at five per cent.

For the 2007-08 academic year, Queen’s tuition was increased an institution-wide average of 3.9 per cent.

“Queen’s has not, overall, come close to increasing fees to the maximum,” said Patrick Deane, vice-principal (academic).

Deane said the tuition increase policy is unlikely to change dramatically in the future.

“It is important to recognize that the universities in the province, despite recent increases in government funding, are still the lowest-funded in the country,” Deane said. “Budget problems aren’t rare.”

The University is looking to balance offering high-quality programs and keeping them affordable for students, Deane said.

“I don’t think the responsibility for maintaining quality in universities needs to be, or should be, borne heavily by the students,” he said.

Deane said having the government fund 70 per cent of education costs would be good for students, but it isn’t enough for the government to offset students’ costs without also increasing funding for universities.

“All you’re doing is maintaining the university in a steady state, which you can tell is not really adequate at this point.”

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