As part of an effort to eliminate Ontario’s $16 billion deficit, finance minister Dwight Duncan tabled the 2012 provincial budget Tuesday, which included holding annual education sector spending to 1.7 per cent and other cost-cutting measures that will affect postsecondary students.
“The single most important thing is to balance the budget,” Duncan told the assembled media on Tuesday.
Among other cuts to the education sector, the government intends to “scale back or discontinue non-core grants and bursaries” to compensate for the 30 per cent Ontario tuition grant, place a cap on extra secondary school credits, eliminate study-abroad scholarships, reduce funding to institutions for non-PhD, and decrease international student funding.
Cancellations to the non-core grants, which are expected to save $84.2 million over three years, will apply to the Ontario Textbook and Technology Grant and the Ontario Trust for Student Support. The Queen Elizabeth II Aiming for the Top Scholarship will be gradually withdrawn over three years. The Small, Northern, and Rural Grant will also be discontinued.
Duncan said the primary aim of the budget is to reduce the deficit in order to stimulate the economy and produce jobs.
“The budget takes strong action and makes the right choices to protect the results we’ve achieved in health care and education,” he said.
Despite economist Don Drummond’s recommendations, the budget will keep funding for full-day kindergarten — to be implemented by 2014 — maintain a cap on class sizes, and continue the 30 per cent tuition grant for eligible college and university students.
However, Sandy Hudson, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, Ontario, said the budget was further evidence of “a broken promise” to students after the Liberals campaigned on a pledge to reduce tuition fees by 30 per cent.
“Students are very frustrated about the budget right now,” she said.
Hudson was critical of the fact that only one-third of students — 300,000 Ontario students — are eligible for the 30 per cent tuition grant, while tuition fees have increased by five per cent, and nine financial assistance programs will now be cut.
“For every dollar that’s been invested in student financial aid, $1.20 has been clawed back through the cuts, and so students feel that they’ve been betrayed time and time again by this government,” Hudson said.
The budget also proposes a cap on excess secondary school credits — at 34 beyond the requisite 30 — which executive director of People for Education Annie Kidder said will limit students’ ability to plan effectively before attending university.
“I was really seriously surprised to see a cap on high school credits,” Kidder said. “[The budget] says it’s going to give them an incentive to plan well, but I’ve had teenagers and they don’t plan well… They need to have that flexibility in high school.”
Study-abroad scholarships and funding for non-PhD international students are also on the chopping block. This could mean that institutions will be forced to charge higher tuition fees for international students in order to eliminate the provincial deficit, said a former CUPE Local 3902 Unit 1 bargaining team member.
“We are already in a situation which is viable for only the richest international students or those willing to take on a huge debt sentence, and this will be further off-loading the provincial deficit onto those same students,” said Ashleigh Ingle, who is also running for a position on the Graduate Student Council. “The exclusion of working class people from an educational institution, no matter where they are from, is a sign of an unhealthy system.”
She added that the cancellation of study-abroad scholarships would constrain students’ university experiences and global perspectives.
U of T spokesperson Laurie Stephens said they can’t comment on the budget or its contents at this moment.
“There are a number of measures in the provincial budget that will have an impact on Ontario universities. The university is examining those measures to ensure it has a full understanding of what they mean to the U of T,” she said.
A spokesperson from the admissions and awards office could not be reached for comment on Friday.