Recent news out of Ontario may look good for students, with the Ford government touting a legislated 10 percent decrease in tuition fees for the 2019-2020 academic year and tuition freezes promised in the coming years.
When examining this announcement closer, one can see that it actually contains funding cuts disguised as a tuition decrease, and will continue to cost students more in years to come.
This includes the elimination of grants put in place by the previous Liberal government that increased the number of grants and made it possible for low-income students to attend college or university free of cost. Consequently, students who already cannot afford to attend post-secondary will need to turn to loans and take on that associated interest. For students already resorting to loans, the six month grace period before payback is scheduled, the Ontario Student Assistance Program, (OSAP) is also being eliminated.
Furthermore, funding to colleges and universities will not be increased. Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton states this 10 percent tuition cut would take about $360 million away from universities and $80 million from colleges. If institutions do not comply with the tuition decreases, core operational grants, the main source of post-secondary funding besides tuition fees, will be restricted.
The Council of Ontario Universities states that “this will negatively affect the ability to provide the best possible learning experience for students, partner with their communities and help deliver economic and social benefits to the people of Ontario.”
NDP Critic Chris Glover states that post-secondary institutions “are already cash strapped and they’re going to have to find ways to make up for the loss of revenue and it’s going to come out of the students. It’s going to come out of the quality of education that they receive, through their class sizes and through the number of professors that are on the campus to help them.”
As the Chair of the VIU Students’ Union, a more sinister aspect of this announcement is that many fees paid by students will be made optional—fees which include student clubs, campus newspapers, and student unions. VIUSU does oppose fee increases such as the ancillary fee that was imposed on many BC students in 2015, which supplement the lack of funding and put more burden on students to not only fund their education but also keep their institutions open. What the Ford government is proposing is something altogether different. These cuts are a strategic attack against democratic and social organisations who regularly speak out against the government—an undermining of the ability for students unions to advocate for student rights to affordable education and hold governments accountable for their actions.
This underfunding of post-secondary education is just one of many sweeping cuts to a number of social programs in Ontario, including reduced or eliminated funding to the Indigenous Culture Fund through the Ontario Arts Council, special education programs in K-12, and the College of Ontario Midwives.
Advocacy groups across the country have met every announcement with outcry and dismay through Twitter and public rallies, but still the cuts keep coming. Each one is a violation of our understanding of social responsibility to each other, our communities, and our future. It is important that we stand in vocal solidarity for the rights of our fellow students in Ontario as this sets a precedent for other provincial governments to do the same. I encourage students and allies of post-secondary to reach out to provincial governments and express concern over actions taken against students’ rights to access, affordability, and democratic organisation.