On January 17, 2019, the Ontario Minister of Training Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton, announced a 10 per cent reduction in tuition fees for domestic students at colleges and universities for 2019-20 and a tuition freeze until 2021.
However, this announcement of a 10 per cent reduction is pure fiction. It is an attempt by this Progressive Conservative government to hide the fact that they are making drastic cuts to post-secondary education.
Instead of increasing financial assistance to colleges and universities so that they may lower tuitions, the government has burdened them with massive budget shortfalls. This loss in revenue amounts to almost $360 million for universities and $80 million from colleges.
Since colleges and universities have to comply with the government’s direction (or risk losing funding), this will likely lead to cuts in the form of cancelled courses, reduced faculty, increases in class size and less programs and support systems for students.
In addition to these operating cuts, there are also cuts to student financial assistance. Many student grants are being converted into loans that have to be repaid and students will see interest charges on those loans immediately after graduating, instead of the having the first six-months interest free. These changes will make post-secondary education less accessible and result in greater student debt.
For international students the situation is even worse. Their tuition is already extremely expensive and there are no limitations on how much further they can be raised. Most likely they will see their tuitions skyrocket even further to cover some of the projected budget deficits.
To make matters worse, the Ford government is attacking the finances of student unions, who provide students with representation and services. In the pretense of “choice”, the government has stated student union dues are now voluntary. This will make it more difficult for student unions who deliver services like food banks, health benefits and advocacy; to offer these services without everyone paying their fair share.
By painting these changes as a “10 per cent reduction”, the government is trying to pretend it is improving post-secondary education. However, without increasing government funding, this simply cannot be done. Despite a general consensus on the dangers of mounting student debt and the need to make education more affordable, this government seems happy to make our education system a privilege that only the wealthy can afford.
Sharon DeSousa, PSAC Ontario Regional Executive Vice-President