Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities held a press conference yesterday to announce he ('s allowing universities to) will be jacking-up tuition fees by up to 18 per cent over the next four years. It's as if I fell asleep and woke-up back in the Mike Harris era. Where's John "manufacture a crisis" Snobelen when you need him?
I want to focus on the policy question here, but the communications angle is hilarious. The backdrop for the minister's formal press conference announcing the lifting of the tuition freeze was a display with the words "Reaching Higher" 48 times. They also invited a group of student leaders to attend. You can guess how they reacted to the announcement. The Star's political blog has more on the communications disaster.
Now, to the policy. It's bad. Higher tuition restricts access; it's as simple as that. Student debt levels increase. The average student debt level is $20,000, and that's after grants, bursaries, and employment earnings.
In our parents' day, if they buckled down in the summer they could make enough to pay for their year. That's impossible today even with part time jobs during the year, which is tough to do as a full time student.
The average tuition for an arts student in Canada is about $4300. In Ontario it's $4881. So it's already a fair bit higher, and will only increase. When I started at Carleton in 1996 it was $3200, and four years later it was well over $4000.
The Minister said the two-year tuition freeze had become "unaffordable." I choked on that after having read this the other day in the Toronto Star, in a story talking about the possible York U subway expansion, on Ontario's upcoming budget:
Liberal insiders say corporate tax revenues are so much higher than projected that the government will have more than enough money for a high-profile investment in the TTC.
"Put it this way, (the province) is having a hard time showing a deficit this (fiscal) year," said one source, noting Duncan prefers to eliminate the budget deficit in dramatic fashion next year — just in time for the Oct. 4, 2007 provincial election.
So, let me get this straight. A tuition freeze for students is unaffordable, but to avoid showing a budgetary surplus the government is dropping $1.5 billion on a subway expansion? The (also) funny thing is the subway expansion is to a university. If you polled the student body at York U and asked them to choose between a subway in a few years, or an 18 per cent tuition hike over the next four years, I wonder what they'd choose?
I believe students should pay their fair share. I believe students do pay their fair share already. I believe government has an obligation and a duty to maintain an accessible post secondary education system, and to subsidize that system. A highly educated workforce is in its best interest. They get higher paying jobs and pay more in taxes to the government. They innovate and create jobs, which also generates tax revenue. This is an investment in our future. I thought Liberals got that kind of thing. I guess not.
This column says it well:
Students pay now, Ontario will play later
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
The angry reaction from student leaders was to be expected when Ontario Colleges and Universities Minister Chris Bentley announced yesterday that tuition fees would rise. Nobody likes to have their ox gored in such a public way.
And here's the main news piece:
Ontario hikes fees at colleges, universities
Unable to maintain freeze, province allows tuition to rise 18 per cent over four years
EDUCATION REPORTER; With a report from Hayley Mick
Saying the government can no longer afford a tuition freeze, Ontario raised fees yesterday for college and undergraduate university students by as much as 18 per cent over the next four years.