Ford government’s post-secondary education sector announcement

On Thursday, January 17, the Ontario government announced a series of changes to the post-secondary education sector. These changes include:

  • A new tuition fee framework which includes a 10% tuition fee reduction for domestic students for 2019-2020 and a tuition freeze for 2020-2021.
  • Reforms to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the elimination of the free tuition grant.
  • The introduction of voluntary student unionism.

The 10% tuition fee reduction

The Ontario government introduced a new tuition fee framework, which will reduce tuition fees for domestic students by 10% for 2019-2020, and freeze tuition fees the following year. The new tuition fee framework is projected to save domestic students an average of $660 per year (for full-time studies). Nonetheless, since Ontario’s tuition fees are well above the national average, Ontario will likely continue to be the province with the highest tuition fees in Canada.

International students, who currently pay three to four times more in tuition fees are not included in the new tuition fee framework. There is no cap on their tuition fees.

Average Undergraduate uOttawa Tuition Fees: International and Domestic Students

Source: University of Ottawa website

While the APUO supports initiatives that make post-secondary education more affordable for students, we have concerns with this policy announcement. At the present time, the budgetary shortfalls produced by this decision are not replaced with increased government funding to colleges and universities. For the last two decades, Ontario’s colleges and universities have been chronically underfunded, which has downloaded the cost of education onto students. In essence, tuition fees are ‘user fees’ that students and their families pay to access a public service. This spring’s provincial budget must include new funding to ensure that the post-secondary education sector can continue to deliver high-quality education.

What does the 10% tuition fee reduction mean for the University of Ottawa? 

Based on current enrolment numbers of domestic students, the 10% tuition fee reduction announcement represents less than a 3% cut of total revenues for the University of Ottawa. Luckily, the University of Ottawa has a choice. The University of Ottawa is in a strong financial situation, having accumulated $429.46 million in surpluses over 10 years. The APUO sees no reason for the Central Administration to introduce new austerity measures in light of this announcement. The APUO will continue to monitor the University’s financial situation closely and oppose any cuts to faculties and the library.

Cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP)

The APUO is outraged with the government’s announced cuts and reforms to the OSAP program, in particular, the elimination of the Ontario Free Tuition Grant for students with low-income backgrounds. The program, which was introduced in the fall of 2017, was meant to increase access to college and university for disadvantaged students who come from low-income backgrounds. Overall funding for the OSAP program has been reduced to 2016-2017 levels, reducing the amount of grants available to students. The reforms also include the elimination of the OSAP repayment 6-month grace period, forcing students to pay interest on their loan immediately after graduation.

In 2011, 52% of university enrolments in Ontario came from the highest income quartile, while barely 10% came from the lowest. Thursday’s announced cuts to OSAP and the elimination of the Ontario Free Tuition Grant will keep post-secondary education out of reach for many Ontarians.

Source: Statistics Canada

Voluntary Student Unionism 

Finally, the Ford government announced the introduction of voluntary student unionism. The APUO vehemently opposes this announcement. Student unions play a crucial role in influencing post-secondary education policies in the province, and across the country. Under the previous government, the now reversed reforms to the OSAP program helped to improve access to post-secondary education for students from low-income families. The introduction of a more generous grants program, prioritizing the needs of students with financial need was the result of research and lobbying efforts by the student movement.

At the University of Ottawa, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa and the Graduate Students’ Association provide essential services to the community, including a Food Bank (which was the second most visited Food Bank in Ottawa in 2014), the Student Rights Centre, the Centre for Students with Disabilities, the Pride Centre, and the Women’s Resource Centre. These two student unions have also consistently supported the APUO and other campus labour unions during collective bargaining.

The introduction of voluntary student unionism will mean that student unions across the province will have no guaranteed income. Many will cease to be able to deliver effectively services that are crucial to the community. Equally importantly, they will lose the resources that they have currently to advocate on behalf of the student body. Similar legislation introduced in the United States led to the collapse of the student movement. It is clear to the APUO that the Ford government is attempting to dismantle its opposition at the same time that it is unleashing a series of attacks on the post-secondary education sector.