Ontario pledges $106.4M for university, college COVID-19 costs

Posted on March 20, 2021 in Education Debates

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TheStar.com – Politics/Provincial
March 19, 2021.   By Kristin RushowyQueen’s Park Bureau

The Ontario government is promising $106.4 million in COVID-19 relief for universities and colleges that have faced extra costs and lost revenue because of the pandemic — an amount one critic called “crumbs” compared to what schools actually need.

“We need to make sure that students continue to receive high-quality post-secondary education and get the skills they need to get good jobs,” said Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano in a written statement.

“That is why we are establishing a fund for severely impacted colleges and universities to help address the financial impacts of COVID-19 and to maintain Ontario’s position as a global leader in higher education.”

Absent from the list of those schools receiving help is Laurentian University, which is currently restructuring under creditor protection.

Because the courts are now involved, the province is said to have been reluctant to provide the Sudbury school with any funds because they could be used to pay off creditors instead of covering current COVID-19 costs.

The province said the new funding is for those schools which are “most affected by decreases in tuition and ancillary revenues and have incurred expenses associated with online learning, personal protective equipment and enhanced cleaning. Institutions can also use the funding in 2020-21 to offset COVID-19 expenses related to student financial supports and human resources.”

Ontario funding allocation by college or university

[See Chart: https://www.scribd.com/document/499444373/Ontario-supports-for-colleges-and-universities-affected-by-COVID-19#fullscreen&from_embed]

Universities alone were asking for the government to help close a $500-million gap, and Friday’s announcement provided $44 million.

The Council of Ontario Universities (COU) estimates its 21 members have spent or lost $1 billion during the pandemic, but found $500 million in one-time savings. It has said there is “an urgent need for sector-wide cost recovery.”

“Ontario’s universities welcome this investment which will help support several of our institutions with some of their most urgent and pressing costs associated with COVID-19,” said COU president Steve Orsini. “This funding will help these universities continue to prepare students for lifelong careers, help build thriving regions, and support a globally competitive economy through research and innovation.”

However, he added “while this targeted and time-limited investment will help address some urgent and immediate costs, it does not address the significant long-term financial needs of the sector.”

The pandemic came as schools were already struggling with a 10 per cent tuition reduction and subsequent rate freeze imposed by the province in 2019.

Linda Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, said her organization is “continuing to have discussions with the government about how we work together to address the long-term pressures.”

However, she said, “we’re pleased the government is providing support to the colleges most affected by the pandemic. This allows colleges to continue delivering high-quality programs throughout the province.

“The greater challenge will be over the longer term as all of our colleges continue to be affected by issues such as the decrease in international enrolment.”

New Democrat MPP Laura Mae Lindo called the money “crumbs — just a fraction of what’s needed,” and said all institutions should receive some additional funding.

Friday’s announcement “fails to address the funding crisis facing colleges and universities that were already suffering from Ford’s cuts and chronic underfunding of the sector,” she said. “What the sector needs is concrete investments that will stabilize every college and university in the province, especially now that we have entered the third wave of the pandemic.”


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