Ontario tuition talks in progress

OUSA lobbies provincial government to keep undergraduate tuition affordable for future years

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Graphic by Justin Chin

With Ontario’s tuition framework under review for the 2012-13 academic year, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) has recommended that the government limit tuition to an affordable rate.

A new tuition framework will be passed by the provincial government before September 2012 and will remain in place for three years.

OUSA submitted their recommendations to the Government of Ontario in a document entitled “Tomorrow’s Tuition: A New Framework for Affordable Higher Education” on Feb. 7.

The group consists of 14 members including representatives from eight post-secondary institutions.

Mira Dineen, AMS academic affairs commissioner, has been an OUSA member since her position began in May 2011.

“It’s really important that education is accessible to students,” Dineen, ArtSci ’11, said. “We’d like to ensure that tuition is tied to inflation at the most.”

The current tuition framework was established in 2006 and allows for Ontario universities to increase domestic tuition by an average of five per cent annually. Professional programs, such as engineering, are able to increase the most, at a maximum of eight per cent.

Since 2006, the average Ontario university tuition has risen by 35 per cent — from below $5,000 to over $6,600 per year.

Dineen said the Ontario government’s new 30 per cent off tuition grant was a step forward in making education accessible, but there’s still progress to be made.

“We are concerned that the effort and success of the grant will be meaningless if tuition is allowed to dramatically increase,” Dineen said.

OUSA is recommending that the government restrain tuition increases to a maximum that matches inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. OUSA also wants greater flexibility of payment due dates.

Dineen said the new payment dates at Queen’s were problematic.

“At Queen’s undergraduate tuition is primarily due upfront all at once on Sept. 1,” Dineen said. “It can pose an access barrier to students that can’t put it all together before that date.”

OUSA recommends that the government regulate a fair payment due date applicable to all Ontario universities. Currently in Ontario, only McMaster University, Nipissing University and Queen’s University charge all tuition fees on Sept. 1.

Dineen said one possibility would be to change payments to a per-term basis so that students had less to pay in September — five Ontario universities are currently under this framework including Wilfrid Laurier University.

Sean Madden, OUSA president and vice-president of university affairs at Laurier’s student union, said he’s optimistic about the government implementing OUSA’s recommendations.

“We’ve been submitting it during meetings with various government figures … Probably about 100 people have seen the document by now,” Madden said, adding that this included government officials. “We’ve had some positive feedback.”

Since it formed in 1992, OUSA has written numerous documents to lobby the provincial government for undergraduate concerns.

In the 2010-11 year the government committed to creating an additional 60,000 spots in post-secondary institutions over five years to increase the availability of education.

More recently, OUSA recommended that the 30 per cent off tuition grant be extended past four years for students with disabilities. The government approved this change, Madden said.

He said many of the ideas within the Tomorrow’s Tuition document came from an OUSA General Assembly meeting in November and recommendations were jointly written by OUSA executive and members.

Before its release, there was much consultation with external officials, Madden said.

“We’ve been in discussion with the Premier’s office, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.”

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