If elected leader of his party on January 25, former cabinet minister Glen Murray and the Ontario Liberals intend to offer post-secondary students the opportunity to attend university or college without having to pay upfront.
“You would complete your degree and pay a portion of your education based on a percentage of your income,” says Murray. “Seventy per cent of jobs require a university or college education, so we have to make it affordable and we have to be realistic.”
Murray, who previously served as Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, before stepping down to join the ongoing leadership race, proposed introducing “non-taxable benefits” which would allow Ontario students to write off part of their post-secondary education against their taxes. He pointed to a similar system in Manitoba, where students can claim a 60 per cent income tax rebate for tuition fees in the years immediately following graduation.
His plan also allows employers to assume a new hire’s student debt. He described the benefit as “buying out” an employee’s tuition fees.
“We have a good creative start in making post-secondary education more affordable,” said Murray. “No one else in the world has done anything quite like this.”
Murray’s tuition proposal is the boldest and most concrete platform point on post-secondary education put forward by any of the six candidates currently vying for the premiership vacated by Dalton McGuinty earlier this year.
At the same time, the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) remains skeptical of an income contingent loan repayment, also known as ICLR.
“In places where ICLRs exist, student debt has skyrocketed, resulting in massive youth outmigration, high rates of default, and other serious issues with significant economic impact,” said Sarah Jayne King, chairperson of the CFS-O.
In Australia, where a similar program was administered, students ended up fleeing the country in order to escape their debt. They were only lured back in when the government launched a student loan forgiveness policy.
“Students could take 25 years to pay off their loans,” noted King. “ICLR schemes are a way to shift funding for universities and colleges to individuals and away from the public, not about improving access [to education].”
Under the McGuinty government’s ‘Reaching Higher’ plan, tuition fees increased up to 71 per cent. “This record does not show an interest in making public, affordable, high quality post-secondary education a priority,” said King.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union expressed a similar stance on the ‘no-money-down’ proposal.
“Murray’s plan will worsen the tragedy of the student debt crisis,” said Munib Sajjad, vice-president, university affairs for the University of Toronto Students’ Union. “The sticker price for loan repayment would increase as interest is collected on principles, which students need not repay over seven years.”
“There has been no work done to address a provincial loan system designed to tie students up in an endless cycle of interest repayment for years, before being able to tackle the principle,” said Sajjad.
From 2004–2006, the CFS-O says they won a fully funded tuition fee freeze across the province. “We hope the [Liberals] will return to prioritizing affordable education that doesn’t leave poor and middle-income students with mountains of debt,” said Sajjad.
Students continue to suffer the effects of high debt loads, said Sajjad. “It is no longer feasible to simply work over the summer to afford an education.”
“Get involved,” Sajjad advises. “Pressure your college and faculty societies to take action and make education a priority. Pressure your MP and MPPs that represent U of T campuses to support calls for increased public funding of the post-secondary sector, tightening tuition fee increases, and addressing the student debt crisis.”