Reducing Ontario post-secondary tuition fees is the only fair option
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – Students want the same access to education as their parents.
Apr 05 2013.
Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, has released a new tuition fee framework for Ontario colleges and universities. Unfortunately, it continues to allow tuition fees to increase and will ensure Ontario maintains its title as the most expensive place to study in Canada. All told, by the end of this tuition fee framework, tuition in Ontario will have as much as doubled under the Liberal government’s watch.
While the minister says the new framework is fair and accountable, the reality is that this government is denying today’s generation of students the same affordable post-secondary education that previous generations had access to.
When Duguid went to the University of Toronto Scarborough in 1980, government funding accounted for about 80 per cent of university operating funds. Now, public money accounts for just 47 per cent of university funding as governments have shirked their responsibility to adequately fund colleges and universities over the past 30 years.
Government underfunding has resulted in skyrocketing tuition fees in Ontario. At $7,180, undergraduate tuition in Ontario is more than eight times higher than what average tuition fees were in 1980. Even accounting for inflation, students today pay almost three times what Duguid paid.
The $832 that the minister and his peers paid, on average, in tuition fees represented about 15 per cent of the cost of going to school. Now, government officials and university administrators believe that students should foot the bill for a much higher portion of the cost of an education. Tuition and ancillary fees today account for 49 per cent of university operating revenue, three times higher than what Duguid or his peers were expected to cover.
While many people in the Liberal caucus benefited from affordable post-secondary education, Liberals have stood by as tuition fees have increased as much as 71 per cent since 2006. In the last election, the Liberals promised to address the issue of high tuition fees with their “30-per-cent off” program. Unfortunately, more than two-thirds of students cannot access the $1,680 grant, which covers less than a quarter of what average tuition fees are, not 30 per cent as has been claimed.
High fees and ineffective financial aid programs have led to students taking on record levels of student debt, far more than what previous generations were expected to assume. Ontario students now collectively owe $9 billion to the provincial and federal governments in student loans, and it is getting more and more difficult for students to pay back their debts. In 2012, 171,000 borrowers in Canada were unable to make payments on their student loans, a 27-per-cent increase in just two years.
The government justification for fee increases has been that the province must find “a fair and accountable” approach to college and university funding. But when Duguid and his colleagues were in school, the public paid to ensure they were not saddled with debt loads. This meant that many of them could buy homes, start businesses and even run for office. Instead of rolling up the ladder behind them, politicians should be working to ensure future generations have this same opportunity.
Students agree the government needs to be fair and accountable and we have presented reasonable plans to reduce tuition fees in Ontario. The plan presented to government by students would see tuition fees cut by 30 per cent over three years, including a 17-per-cent reduction next year at no additional cost to government. These policy changes would help ensure today’s young people have the same opportunity their parents were given: access to affordable post-secondary education.
Sarah Jayne King is the chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, which represents more than 300,000 college, undergraduate and graduate students in Ontario.
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