Last Monday the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) launched an alternative to the Ontario Postsecondary Review, the top-to-bottom examination led by former Ontario premier Bob Rae of the province’s postsecondary institutions. The “Rae Review,” as it is popularly known, has already drawn fire from several student groups, including CFS, who say that Rae is not heeding their advice. On November 1, CFS announced it would conduct its own postsecondary review and report its findings directly to the province, skirting the Rae Review process altogether.
“There is a growing sentiment that Rae’s review process has gone off the tracks,” said CFS Ontario Chairperson Jesse Greener. “[This] has prompted students to provide their own framework for discussion and debate. No matter how Rae takes our research document, our alternative process involves providing the input we receive to the McGuinty government.
“There is no doubt that they hear what we are saying,” said Greener, “but are they going to act on it, or even consider it?”
Greener believes that the louder CFS is in presenting student issues, the better the chance that the public-a large majority of which support postsecondary reform-will understand the complexities that need to be addressed when creating sound policy.
Greener wants people to scrutinize Rae’s encouragement of increased funding: the most important question, he said, is whether Rae will recommend increased per-student funding. If the number of students in Ontario post-secondary institutions rises faster than government funding, Greener said, the next generation of Ontario students will suffer a lower standard of education at cash-strapped institutions.
“It’s been a fight to put on the table the issue of increasing per-student funding to the national average,” noted Greener, “both with the previous [Tory] government, and now with Mr. Rae. He’s asking for evidence and we’ve gone to great lengths to provide him with evidence to prove that these policies he’s campaigning on don’t stack up against the evidence. Our discussion paper cites nearly 120 references to cutting-edge international examples and it goes well beyond the limited perspective that his research provides.”
CFS Ontario Government Relations Coordinator Pam Frache said the funding issue is deeper than just per-student funding: “[It’s] because of under-funding that we can’t accommodate demand in Ontario,” she said. “There has been a drop in learning conditions in colleges and universities across the province; increased class sizes; fewer professors; and an inability for the system to provide the best quality education for students. We believe the report doesn’t go far enough in addressing these concerns.
“When the whole system is under-funded and it can’t meet demand, it forces Canadian universities to market the Canadian postsecondary system to foreign students as a cash cow.” Frache added that under-funding leads to inaccessibility in the post-secondary system since low-income students must contend with burdensome debt.
“Mr. Rae suggests ‘study now, pay later,’ but that debt never goes away,” Frache said. “It increases through cost of living and interest anyway. The poorest borrow most, and pay the most in interest.”
The burden of debt, Frache said, hurts Canada in the long run, as students leave Canada for higher-paying jobs abroad.
“In New Zealand, the ‘brain drain’ has been exacerbated through students leaving to pursue higher-paying jobs around the globe and not staying home,” Frache said. “Grants are a superior policy tool to increase enrolment in those groups that are under-represented in the system.
“There is no discussion of this point in the workbook issued by Mr. Rae,” she continued. “There is also no discussion of the impact of tuition fee hikes worldwide. It’s been estimated that for every $1000 tuition hike, it becomes 20% less likely that a student from a low-income family will enrol or complete a degree.”
Calls and emails to the office of the Rae Postsecondary Review by The Varsity were not returned.
CFS officials said that despite their criticisms of the review, they are excited that the provincial government is paying attention to student issues, and are eager to help Rae with the process.
“The CFS wants to make sure that students and all Ontarians have the space to discuss and debate the issues that Mr. Rae has flagged as critical over the course of this review,” Greener said. “By most accounts, the Rae Review has not been successful in providing for that.”