Throughout my time as a health sciences student at McMaster, I have seen the cost of my education rise at unaffordable rates. Over the past 5 years my tuition has increased by nearly $1,000 due to annual 3% increases. Furthermore, ancillary fees have risen even more drastically, with new services being approved through referenda, and other ancillary costs of education, such as textbooks and course materials, increasing each year.
Ontario is in a unique position in Canada’s post-secondary landscape. We have the highest amount of public post-secondary institutions in the country by far, however Ontario also provides the least amount of per-student funding to its public institutions in the country. In fact, student contributions have outpaced government contributions for several years now, resulting in Ontario having the highest average tuition rate in the country. On top of this, institutions are increasingly relying on international students to recover costs as a result of declining funding, rather than the unique and diverse experiences they bring to their campus cultures.
Ancillary fees play a big role in the rising cost of education. As universities continue to cope with tight operating budgets, student associations and institutions have had to look for alternative methods of funding programs and capital expansions. Oftentimes, this is done through implementing new ancillary fees. For example, at many institutions, mental health services are usually financed through an ancillary fee, rather than coming from tuition revenues or operating grants.. For many, mental health services are necessary to access education. Reducing barriers to access starts at lowering the cost of attending post-secondary education.
As the cost of education continues to rise, financial aid is a key resource that should be used to support low-income students and facilitate their access to post-secondary education. A robust, targeted OSAP can help reduce financial barriers for both current and prospective students. This would allow institutions and communities to focus on non-financial access barriers for students, such as facilitating a culturally appropriate, gender inclusive environment. At the same time, debt aversion and the implication of financial dependence need to be considered when increasing fees while simultaneously increasing financial aid. Having to pay back large sums upon graduation or immediately after our first job can discourage students from seeking financial aid in the first place.
The province needs to take a comprehensive approach to managing the costs of education. Tuition, institutional funding, and financial aid all need to be considered in tandem when managing the finances of post-secondary education. These three pillars need to complement one another, not make up for one another’s faults.
As we move forward as a province, our public institutions need to receive the funding they require to thrive and provide the highest possible quality education, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of students through increasing fees. This is why I am voting in this year’s provincial election. Education is a public good, and a significant investment needs to be made into Ontario’s post-secondary system, along with tighter regulation of tuition and ancillary fees, in order to restore public funding and return to a post-secondary system where students have the resources and ability to excel.
Ryan Deshpande is the Vice President Education at the McMaster Students Union and an OUSA Steering Committee Member.