Doug Ford has plunged colleges and universities into crisis with historic funding cuts — and no plan for their futures

Posted on April 26, 2023 in Education Policy Context

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Politics/Opinion
April 25, 2023.   By Martin Regg Cohn, Political Columnist

Ford likes to boast about lavishing massive financial aid for new EV battery factories, but for all his talk about putting Ontarians to work, his education policies are working against him, Martin Regg Cohn writes.

If you listen to Doug Ford’s grand economic plan, he’s “getting it done.”

But if you look closely at the premier’s post-secondary education plan, it’s coming undone.

Ford likes to boast about lavishing massive financial aid on new electric-vehicle battery factories and car plants. But for all his talk about putting Ontarians to work, his own higher education policies are working against him.

Ford’s Tories have been systematically freezing and defunding the higher education sector since taking power in 2018, leading to a cash crunch unlike anything in the past. That glaring disconnect between economic growth and educational shrinkage could prove costly.

Foreign investors don’t come to Ontario just for the tax breaks. They also count on a skilled workforce to make their factories globally competitive.

The crisis in colleges and universities is undermining Ontario’s education reputation. But it’s not just bad for business; it’s also distorting the business model for post-secondary revenues.

As campuses reorient themselves toward recruitment of foreigners, as many as one-third of incoming spots at some universities and one-half at some colleges are being allocated to international students. That could come at the expense of the domestic students these campuses were created to serve.

With some schools on the brink, others are retrenching and cutting back.

The University of Guelph has just announced it is “pausing” 16 programs ― 10 in the sciences ― until it decides whether to revise or “scrap them entirely,” closing off options for first-year students. So much for STEM.

While higher education gets squeezed, apprenticeships and skills training are getting big hugs from Ford as he cosies up to the building trades that offered his Tories strong support in the last election. By any measure, the bleeding is painful on campus, undermining the pillars of our post-secondary system:

Beyond double jeopardy, this amounts to triple peril ― freezes, cuts and caps. It is perpetuating a hollowing out of higher education for Ontarians, while hosting unlimited enrolment for international students.

In fairness, the system has been slowly starved of cash for more than a decade under both Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. But Ford’s Tories have cut deeper and harder.

Against that backdrop, the PCs made a surprise announcement last month to appoint a so-called blue-ribbon panel to take another look at post-secondary funding.

Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop told me there’s a sense of “urgency” to get the results by this summer: “We want those results back fast and we want to get moving.”

But what’s the strategy, exactly?

Dunlop stressed that students are focused on getting jobs upon graduation, but without paying a higher price in fees. And the government won’t put up with any more fiscal fiascos like Sudbury’s Laurentian University.

“We want to ensure that we are training the workforce that is going to be needed,” she mused, arguing that the government already plows $10 billion into higher education while tuition accounts for another $6 billion.

“So we can’t continue to ask students and families and taxpayers to put more money into this sector. We need the schools to be responsive and to do their part as well.”

Dunlop echoes the premier’s rhetoric that the “education that’s offered here in Ontario is one of the biggest reasons that those (foreign) companies are choosing to come to Ontario.”

But the college and university presidents I interviewed (most of them on background in order to speak candidly) were concerned that the government has no concrete blueprint beyond the blue-ribbon panel to deal with the funding gap or reshape the sector for the better.

University of Toronto president Meric Gertler, one of the few who agreed to be quoted by name, said the government has to take account of the economic imperative for highly trained graduates. But Gertler ― whose university has a strong financial base thanks partly to the economies of scale from being Ontario’s biggest campus ― stresses that the panel has to find a formula to keep universities afloat.

“Our sector plays a key role in providing the talent Ontario’s economy needs to grow and stay competitive,” he said. But the blue-ribbon panel must come up with “a new model for financial sustainability that will strengthen the entire post-secondary education system.”

How to square that circle? Ontario’s college and university presidents are being tested as never before.

Students are waiting for the answers, about which more in my next column.

(Disclosure: I’m a senior fellow at U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, and a visiting practitioner at Toronto Metropolitan University.)

https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2023/04/25/doug-ford-has-plunged-colleges-and-universities-into-crisis-with-historic-funding-cuts-and-no-plan-for-their-futures.html

Tags: , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 26th, 2023 at 11:28 am and is filed under Education Policy Context. 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.

Leave a Reply