Uproar over Ford’s tuition framework: Is it warranted?

Many of Ontario’s college and university students are in uproar after the provincial government announced its 10 percent decrease of tuition, as well as the drastic reduction of non-repayable grants through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). 

It’s clear that Doug Ford’s new tuition framework will have a huge impact the province, its students, and its universities, but it’s less clear what this impact may be. 

On the upside, the decrease in tuition will save the average Ontario arts and science university student $660 annually, starting in the 2019-20 school year and continuing to the 2020-21 year. The average college student will save $340 annually.

The Student Choice Initiative, which will make many mandatory student fees optional, will help students save up to hundreds of dollars a year.

Further, OSAP changes could save the provincial government up to $2 billion. OSAP was introduced by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government and has added $22 billion to the province’s debt. OSAP related debt was expected to grow by $2 billion annually by the 2020-21 year. The burden of paying back this debt falls upon Ontario’s taxpayers, students included.

On the downside, Ford’s tuition cuts may only benefit high-income students and students with high-income families who don’t rely on OSAP to fund their post-secondary education.

The 10 percent tuition decrease will put money in the pockets of a significant number of students, but the accompanying changes to OSAP will leave many of the 230,000 students who rely on the assistance program with years of debt. Students needing financial assistance from the government will likely be subjected to loans that must be repaid with interest, as opposed to non-repayable OSAP grants. This will prove to be difficult for students who are already facing financial challenges.

The new tuition framework will also directly impact Ontario’s universities, who rely on tuition for one third of their revenues. Lower tuition means Ontario’s colleges and universities can expect $440 million in funding cuts, which will likely impact their budgets. Lowered budgets limit universities’ ability to provide financial assistance to students, and Ontario’s universities already have the lowest amount of student funding in the country.

Due to these budget cuts, students may start to see fewer course options, larger class sizes, and fewer university-funded programs as a result of universities’ efforts to save money. Additionally, the Student Choice Initiative will leave many campus clubs, programs, and services with reduced budgets.

So, is the uproar warranted?

It’s a matter of trade-offs.

The new framework comes with substantial fiscal and financial benefits; it will help relieve government debt and save many students a substantial amount of money. Hundreds of dollars a year per student is not small change.

However, sacrifices must be made to reap these benefits.

First, university and college budget cuts will weaken the quality of post-secondary education. Large classes and few course options are unconducive to a high-quality learning experience.

Second, the Student Choice Initiative may allow students to save money, but its impact on non-academic activities devalues student experience as whole.

Finally, it’s likely that the new framework will discourage young Ontarians who cannot afford to take out repayable loans from enrolling in post-secondary education. Many say the framework is antithetical to growing a highly-educated workforce.

Ultimately, determining the rightness of the new framework is a matter of priorities, and Ford’s government has chosen to prioritize fiscal gain over equitable access to education. Regardless of whether this decision was right or wrong, it will significantly change Ontario’s students’ relationship with post-secondary education.