Tuition changes will hurt students, society, in the long run

Posted on in Education Debates

Source: — Authors: Opinion/Contributors
Jan. 22, 2019.   By

Nobody I know in higher education resents the notion that students should pay less. The way to make this happen is to spread the cost of higher education investments over our broader tax base.

Post-secondary graduates benefit society with skills and knowledge. Their improved wages, and the jobs created by entrepreneurial-minded students, strengthen the economy — and the tax base.

Higher education is a vital catalyst for the knowledge economy. As traditional manufacturing jobs disappear, those that remain are rapidly evolving. We need graduates who are ready for this changing economy, have acquired transformative knowledge and skills, and can apply their education to new technologies.

How, then, do we get quality education and its benefits to the economy when there are two primary sources of funding: government and tuition?

It was disingenuous to see Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Merrilee Fullerton, standing behind a sign reading “For the Students” as she announced funding changes that are anything but good for students.

Predictably, at first blush the announcement seems positive: Tuition rates are going down! But a clear-eyed reading of the situation reveals these cuts do far more harm to students. The real goal is the government will spend far less on student grants — siphoning resources from an already underfunded system.

For students, it’s an illusion of short-term gain for long-term pain. The winners are those rich enough to pay for their education without loans or grants. The vast majority of Ontario’s students and their families will feel the brunt of these changes.

Lost grants will more than wipe out any savings in tuition. Many grants now become repayable loans, further burdening students entering uncertain job markets.

The short-term gain is indeed illusory. The cuts mean students save a small amount each year but receive much less in return. Universities and colleges will make painful choices, inevitably meaning larger class sizes, fewer course and program choices, reduced student supports and less investment to renew infrastructure and update technology.

For decades governments have reduced student grants, driving institutions to rely more on tuition, shifting the burden away from the broader society that benefits from an educated populace. Ontario is already at the bottom of per-student funding across Canada; cutting tuition by 10 per cent will mean further deferred maintenance, leading to substandard campus infrastructure and increased reliance on precarious labour, hurting students and the instructors who struggle to make a living.

Contrast this with Germany, where tuition fees were abolished in 2014 and state governments cover the cost of higher education — including, in most states, for international students.

Such thinking requires a government with foresight. It results in workers who do not launch careers under a mountain of debt. And extending this to international students encourages globalization. Today’s international students are tomorrow’s industry and cultural leaders; when the time comes to decide where to do business, it is obvious where their affinity will lie.

This vision in building a knowledge economy seems absent in Ontario. Tragically, the tuition cuts will undermine innovation at a time when it is a crucial component of higher education.

Governments need to work to with, not against, colleges and universities. Higher education institutions contribute significantly to the province, in myriad ways. They are valuable partners helping take Ontario forward. Yet these actions, as with so many from this government, come with a lack of consultation.

A government concerned with economic stability should envision a future and invest in it. Ensure that colleges and universities have the means to produce graduates who will fuel our future prosperity.

Those of us in higher education will continue to do the hard work to deliver high quality education, but the province has made the means of doing so, and access to this for students, that much more difficult.

These changes to higher education funding may help students feel temporarily richer, but in the long run leaves them and Ontario far poorer.

Scott Henderson is an associate professor in the Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film, and chair of Senate, at Brock University.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019 at 3:24 pm and is filed under Education Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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