It’s been an important week for the tuition debate in Ontario. Yesterday, Statistics Canada released its annual tuition averages from the Tuition and Living Accommodation Costs survey. When taking into account the fact that the tuition averages assumed that the Charest increases would continue, despite newly elected Premier Marois’ commitment to stop them, the new averages allow students to draw two clear conclusions. First, Ontario’s tuition continues to be the highest in the country. Second, our nation-leading rate of tuition increase will widen this lead in years to come.
In addition, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report that has caused quite a stir. The report argued that average tuition and compulsory fees for undergraduate students in Canada rose by a yearly average of 6.2 percent between 1990 and 2011, which vastly outpaced inflation. As our government submission Tomorrow’s Tuition points out, the real-median after-tax income of Canadian non-elderly families in increased by only 13.3 percent over the last decade, while tuition rose three times that rate, at 41 percent.
So, what does all this mean for students?
Over ten years, this will see that Ontario students pay nearly $3,000 more than anyone else in the country.
As the CCPA report points out, there is also a distinction to be made between the overall impact of tuition and the impact specifically on middle- and low-income families. An Ontario student born into a high-income family is still four times more likely to go to university than their low-income counterparts.
We passionately echo the concerns stated in the report that investment in need-based financial assistance should not be equated to reducing upfront access barriers to higher education. We also appreciate how transparent the CCPA is in their methodology, as well as their efforts to analyze the impacts of the 30-Off Ontario Tuition Grant.
We want to recognize that need-based financial assistance does make an impact on affordability; a low-income student who receives the maximum amount of need-based assistance can potentially receive approximately $6,500 in OSAP grants. Last year, this would have nearly covered the entire average tuition cost.
However, the clear lesson from Statistics Canada tuition averages is that the value of these grants is eroding for students. Ontario’s current allowance for 5 per cent annual increases has meant that even a student receiving the maximum amount of non-repayable aid would be left nearly 600 short. This shortfall will only grow if the rate of tuition growth is not curbed.
Repeated polls tell us that the majority of Ontarians support reducing tuition fees – 54 percent would support lowering tuition fees, even if it meant paying higher taxes. OUSA will be taking these concerns forward to the government’s tuition consultation process this fall in efforts to create a more reasonable tuition framework. Despite the troubling fiscal situations of the province and some universities, it should be a priority for all sector stakeholders that the new tuition framework reflect a long-term commitment to affordability for all families.
For students, this means ensuring that tuition growth does not substantially outpace the growth of resources available to pay for it.
President, Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance
Vice-President University Affairs, University Students’ Council of Western University