Cash-strapped Laurentian says tuition freeze no surprise

Posted on March 31, 2022 in Education Debates

Source: — Authors: – News/Local News
Mar 24, 2022.   Star Staff

While Ontario students will welcome a recent decision to keep tuition fees frozen at their current level, the move won’t help an already cash-strapped institution like Laurentian.

The university has cited this cap as one of the reasons it was forced to declare insolvency and restructure through the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.

“A number of developments over the past decade have put an increased strain on the operational and financial health of the university,” stated president Robert Hache last year. “These strains include a combination of factors such as historical recurring deficits, declining demographics in Northern Ontario, the closure of our Barrie campus in 2019 and the domestic tuition reduction and freeze that was implemented in 2019.”

On Thursday, however, Hache said the recent announcement regarding tuition was not a surprise and the institution has already been strategizing to deal with this scenario.

“The continued freeze in tuition costs for students from Ontario has been anticipated throughout our financial planning,” he said in a statement provided to The Star. “We are focused on supporting our students and providing an exceptional post-secondary education. This is our priority under any current or future tuition framework.”

The province said the freeze is intended to keep post-secondary education affordable.

“Our government recognizes that students and their families make huge sacrifices to attend college and university, so our government will continue to look for ways to reduce financial barriers for learners,” said Jill Dunlop, colleges and universities minister, in a release.

“By freezing tuition for another year, we are saying yes to ensuring that students have access to affordable, high-quality post-secondary education, and reducing the financial strain on families who have already faced so many challenges throughout the pandemic.”

The extended freeze builds on a 10 per cent reduction implemented for the 2019-20 academic year, the province said, and the subsequent two-year freeze from 2020 to 2022.

“These reductions represent the first of their kind in Ontario’s history,” the release states. “The government’s action to reduce and freeze tuition has provided students with tuition relief of about $450 million annually when compared to tuition costs in 2018-19.”

Queen’s Park also pointed out that prior to the 2019-20 tuition reduction, tuition rates for Ontario universities were the highest in any Canadian province.

“Ontario has now dropped to the fourth highest in Canada for undergraduate students and the second highest for graduate students,” the government said.

A group representing professors across Ontario said it was pleased to see the tuition freeze continue into 2023 but at the same time feels funding is urgently needed to support education quality and accessibility at Ontario’s public universities.

“If the Ford government is serious about tackling student debt and high tuition fees, the upcoming Ontario budget should provide crucial funding to reduce universities’ dependence on student fees, reverse cuts to student financial assistance, and replace student loans with non-repayable grants,” said Sue Wurtele, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, in a release issued Thursday.

“It is quite troubling,” she added, “that Ontario continues to rank last in Canada in per-student funding and that its students are graduating with historically high levels of student debt.”

On a per-student basis, Ontario’s funding for universities “has fallen further and further behind the rest of the country over the last decade,” according to OCUFA, and universities now receive “an average of only 33 per cent of their operating funding” from the province.

“University faculty and academic librarians are strong believers in a vibrant university education accessible to all students,” said Wurtele. “This goal can only be achieved if the government steps up to address the chronic underfunding of Ontario’s universities, which weakens our post-secondary education system and drives up student fees.”

OCUFA said the tuition freeze “will provide much needed short-term relief for students struggling to make ends meet, but it is a far cry from the commitment to university revitalization that Ontario needs.”

It said an investment of $12.9 billion over the next five years is needed to bring Ontario up to the average level of per-student funding in Canada.

“Our students deserve better and Ontario deserves better,” said Wurtele. “Our universities will be a vital part of the province’s post-pandemic recovery, so every dollar spent on post-secondary education now is an investment in our collective future.”

The looming election will provide an opportunity for parties to put forward their own visions for the future of Ontario’s universities, according to OCUFA.

“If they believe in the importance of our public post-secondary institutions, those visions should include policies that increase public investment in Ontario’s chronically underfunded universities and remove financial barriers to higher education,” the confederation said.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 31st, 2022 at 10:33 pm and is filed under Education Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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