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Ontario boosts college and university funding by more than $1.2 billion, extends tuition freeze

Ontario boosts college and university funding by more than $1.2 billion, extends tuition freeze

 


Ontario will provide a major funding boost to colleges and universities to “stabilize” their finances, but will not allow them to raise tuition fees for the province's students for at least another three years, it said Monday. Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop.

The more than $1.2 billion financial aid package was announced just months after a government-commissioned report found that low provincial funding combined with tuition cuts and freezes implemented in 2019 pose a “significant threat” to financial sustainability of the sector.

The expert panel had recommended a one-time, 10 percent increase in student funding for colleges and universities followed by inflationary increases in subsequent years, as well as a five percent increase in tuition along with an “equally generous ” in student aid.

Instead, Dunlop said the tuition freeze will be extended for Ontario students until at least 2026-2027, the year of the next provincial election, although institutions will be allowed to raise tuition by up to five per cent for students local, out of province. .

Dunlop also introduced a new bill that would require colleges and universities to have policies to address mental health and wellness, combat racism and discrimination on campuses, and increase transparency around fees.

“This is a broad range of measures that will provide much-needed stability to the post-secondary sector and help reduce costs for students and their families,” Dunlop said at a news conference.

“Our goal is to put students and their needs first as we continue to produce the world-class graduates that Ontario is known for.”

The funding increase includes approximately $900 million for a three-year postsecondary education sustainability fund, $200 million of which will be reserved for institutions with the greatest needs, according to a news release. Another $167.4 million will go to capital repairs and equipment, $100 million will go to STEM programs, $65 million to research and innovation, $23 million to mental health support and $15 million to audits to identify ” long-term cost savings”.

Ontario's post-secondary funding 'bleak': report

Other measures announced by Dunlop include allowing colleges to offer applied master's degrees “in fields of study that will help students graduate with in-demand skills, expertise and credentials” such as advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence and animation.

The new legislation would require colleges and universities to provide students with information about tuition fees and other costs such as textbooks.

The funding increase comes after a government-commissioned report said funding for publicly assisted colleges for full-time local students is at a lower level than any other province, while the Ontario Council of Universities said at least 10 universities they are facing operating deficits.

A university building.
A government-commissioned report recommended in November that Ontario end the post-secondary tuition freeze and increase student funding for its universities and colleges. (Katherine Holland/CBC)

A report last year by Higher Education Strategy Associates said Ontario's post-secondary funding is “dismal” and raising spending to the average of nine other provinces would require $7.1 billion a year in additional funding, far higher than current level of operating funding around $5 billion.

The opposition NDP criticized the provincial announcement saying it doesn't do enough to solve the problem.

“It is clear that this Tory government does not understand the severity of the crisis in any way,” said London-West MPP Peggy Sattler, who is a critic of the post-secondary party.

“Decades of chronic underfunding by Liberal and Conservative governments, plus five years of Ford cuts have pushed our post-secondary institutions to the brink.”

The cap on international students has hurt finances

Post-secondary institutions have recently said their situation has become even more dire following a federal announcement earlier this year that the number of visas for international undergraduate students will be reduced, with Ontario seeing its allocation to half.

Dunlop targeted the federal government for that policy decision.

“The federal government's decision was made without consultation and without warning and without considering the impact it would have on students and their families,” Dunlop said.

Low levels of government funding have resulted in post-secondary institutions increasingly turning to international student tuition fees, which are much higher than the fees for Canadian students.

Average university fees in 2020-2021 were $7,938 for domestic undergraduate students and $40,525 for international undergraduate students, the auditor general said in a 2022 report.

The Ontario Federation of Secondary School Teachers, the province's largest teachers' union, also criticized the announcement, saying post-secondary institutions have been “forced” to rely on “exploitative tuition fees” as a result of their lack of financing.

“The Ford government had an important opportunity today to deliver on its promise to put students first and invest in Ontario's future. They have failed on both counts,” the statement said.

“Students will continue to be without the resources and services they need as more programs and services are cut, and the livelihoods of workers on post-secondary campuses will continue to be put at risk.”

The Smart Prosperity Institute, a University of Ottawa-based think tank, reported last year that Ontario universities nearly doubled international student enrollment between 2014 and 2015, and 2021 and 2022, and colleges more than tripled international enrollment.

The Ontario government-commissioned report on post-secondary finance said international student income is now critical to the sector's sustainability, significantly increasing institutions' risk exposure.

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