Ontario tuition highest, study says

University Senate approves amnesty for students who attend protest rally

Society of Graduate and Professional Students Vice-President (Campaigns and Community Affairs) Steve Osterberg says the average student loan debt is more than $20,000.
Society of Graduate and Professional Students Vice-President (Campaigns and Community Affairs) Steve Osterberg says the average student loan debt is more than $20,000.

Ontario universities have the highest tuition fees in Canada, according to a Statistics Canada report released on Tuesday.

Ontario university students pay, on average, just under $6,000 a year, whereas students in Quebec pay, on average, just under $2,300.

The national average tuition fee is $4,917, the report said.

Last year, Ontario’s universities increased their tuition fees by an average of five per cent, the largest increase in Canada.

“We’re all suffering because transfer payments from the federal government just aren’t there anymore,” Society of Graduate and Professional Studies Vice-President (Campaigns and Community Affairs) Steve Osterberg said.

When the federal government stopped payments earmarked for education to the provincial governments in the early 1990s, students nationwide began the Drop the Tuition Fees campaign, Osterberg said.

“We all have to work together and convince the federal government that universities can’t operate without that money,” he said.

Osterberg said he thinks problems associated with underfunding at Queen’s include the fact that classes are too big, graduate students are overworked, no new residences have been built since 2003 and department cuts are widespread.

“To get a job in Ontario, you need to have a post-secondary degree,” he said. “The problem is that the government is making it harder and harder to pay for.”

Access to education should be based on merit, not wealth, he said.

“[The campaign] is urging government to reduce tuition for all students, convert a portion of every student loan to a grant and pledge multi-year funding.”

Drop the Tuition Fees has a postcard campaign, Osterberg said. More than 85,000 students have signed cards that will be mailed to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

“We want tuition to be brought to the national average,” he said. “The argument made by the government is that we get the best education. ... I don’t buy it.

There will be rallies in Toronto and Ottawa on Nov. 5 to promote the campaign, he said. Smaller cities will also host rallies.

The University Senate has asked faculty for an amnesty to allow students out of class that day if they want to participate in the rally.

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said there could be many factors that led Ontario to have the highest tuition fees in the country.

“It may be that the costs of education in Ontario are higher,” he said.

Deane said he thinks costs should be balanced between government, grants and students so they’re split fairly.

“If the grant is going up, perhaps the fees need to go up, but if the grant isn’t going up, there’s going to be quite a pressure on those [tuition] fees,” he said.

“I think higher education should be accessible to all, but that doesn’t mean it should be free or inexpensive,” he said, adding that although a decrease in tuition would be nice for students, it would be difficult to cut fees without sacrificing quality because of the economic situation.

Osterberg said the average student loan debt is more than $20,000.

He said he thinks the economic climate makes it difficult for students to find summer or part-time jobs.

“The government has shown that if times are desperate enough, there is money,” he said. “They aren’t choosing students.”

Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) President Dan Moulton said he thinks when the province tells universities they can increase tuition fees by five per cent per year, they’ll raise fees by that amount.

“OUSA is calling for government to regulate tuition to Consumer Price Index, which is about two per cent,” he said.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) reflects the average rate of inflation for the average consumer.

In Ontario, students pay, on average, 45 per cent of their university’s operating budgets, he said. The national average is 33 per cent.

“It’s very concerning for students,” Moulton said. “They feel the pressure even in high school. ... High costs can steer students away from it before they’ve even started.”

—With files from Holly Tousignant

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