Tuition cuts miss the mark

PCs' recent educational reform to hinder student experience on campuses 

Recent postsecondary reform, Dannetta argues, will have an negative impact on campus services.
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The cost of higher education is arguably the most important political issue student’s face. Many of us take on significant debt, live in poor housing, and work long hours to compensate for high tuition rates.

But the recent decision by the Ontario government to slash university and college tuition fees by 10 per cent won’t change much of that.

On its surface, the new provincial program will make postsecondary degrees more affordable—annual tuition costs will be reduced by $660 for university undergrads and $330 for college students. That comes at the cost of the student experience on campuses across Ontario.

The Ford government’s program will lower tuition fees for the 2019-20 school year, and freeze them for the 2020-21 school year. Access to core operating grants will be contingent on compliance with this new framework. Universities that refuse to cut tuition by the designated amount will be refused government funding.

Following the usual precedents set out by the Progressive Conservative government, these cuts to tuition seem too good to be true.

The Canadian Federation of Students’ Ontario chapter tweeted, “Students should remain cautious of reports of a 10% cut to tuition fees,” stating their concern “about the intentions of this announcement and whether it will make [Post-Secondary Education] more affordable.”

The worrying issue is how the province intends to cover its costs. Universities, on average, will lose around $300 million in terms of total revenue because of the program. And this likely won’t be the end of educational finance reform. Further cuts are consistent with the PC party’s promise to reduce government spending by finding efficiencies in its budget.

Regardless of the number, the effect is clear: Ontario universities and colleges are going to lose significant amounts of funding, and they’ll need to make it up somehow.

This is where the issue becomes pertinent for our campus. To make up for lost revenue, the administration will most likely have to make spending cuts—and this could mean cancelled courses, larger class sizes, and laid-off faculty.

Besides employment strains, the quality of educational resources and student supports will take the brunt of the program’s shortcomings. Services students depend on, like mental health support or specific academic accommodations, could be limited.

While the University hasn’t yet clarified how it will reduce its spending, it’s evident they won’t have the necessary funds to maintain the current levels of support provided to students.

More broadly, the decision to cut tuition is a byproduct of the Ford government’s misguided oversimplification of policy decisions. Ford has consistently presented simple solutions to incredibly complex problems, with little regard for how the changes will affect real people—in this case, students.

His entire campaign was based on the premise that he’d reduce the province’s budget deficit while maintaining the network of public services Ontarians rely on. It was a mathematical and economic impossibility.

As his term unfolds, Ontarians should continue to expect the provincial government to make and break outlandish promises, sell out our best interests for the vague promise of market competition, and fail to understand basic principles of economics.

It’s fiscally difficult to remove upwards of $250 million from an institution’s budget without reducing the quality of the programs and resources it provides. The lives of young Ontarians will be changed because of tuition, and not necessarily for the better.  

While the Ford government may have good financial intentions, they’ve once again implemented a policy with no consideration for its broader social and economic consequences.

This tuition initiative has exacerbated the issue of overpriced post-secondary education in Ontario. The student experience at Queen’s and other universities in Ontario doesn’t merely depend on higher or lower tuition rates—it depends on quality of education, services, and viable resources.  

The province’s decision puts that in jeopardy.

Luca Dannetta is a second-year History major. 

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