The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and the University of Toronto have responded to concerns regarding increasing student contributions to university revenues and to rapidly rising international tuition fees.
In its Budget Report for 2015-2016, the university expects provincial grants to constitute 30 per cent of operating revenues. It has projected that this proportion will decrease to 25 per cent by 2019-2020.
To compensate for the province’s decreasing share of the burden, student contributions from tuition and other fees are expected to increase relative to the total.
The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has allocated over $3.5 billion in operating grant to universities — an increase of $1.63 billion, or 86 per cent, since 2002-2003.
May Nazar, a spokesperson for the ministry, says that the province’s contribution in operating grants has more than kept pace with the increase in enrolment.
“In 2013-14, the ministry’s operating grant to the University of Toronto was about $662 million. This includes an increase of $274 million or 71 per cent since 2002-03. By comparison, enrollment at the university increased by 42% over the same time period,” she explains.
When provincial inflation is taken into account, the $274 million increase represented a 39.5 per cent increase in operating grants.
Nazar adds that operating grants are not given for international student enrollment, noting that “tuition collected from international students is an additional source of revenue growth for universities.”
However, Yolen Bollo-Kamara, president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), criticized the province for providing inadequate financial support.
“I think it’s a tragedy that we’re losing that public institution at the University of Toronto, and students should be concerned about that, the society at large should be concerned about that,” she says. “And what we should be pushing for is for more funding from the provincial government.”
Bollo-Kamara adds that issues the university currently faces, like the ongoing CUPE 3902 Unit 1 strike and rising international tuition fees, are related to provincial funding.
“We’re talking about poor funding for TAs… we have one of the highest tuition fees in Canada [and] increasingly every year, there are more and more students who literally can’t afford to go to school here,” she says.
While Bollo-Kamara says that Ontario has the lowest per-student funding compared to other provinces, the ministry maintains that post-secondary education is kept affordable through the province’s financial assistance programs like the 30% Off Ontario Tuition grant and the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
“When Ontario’s various student financial assistance programs are included, the net cost of postsecondary education is often less for Ontario students than for students in other provinces,” says Nazar.
Nazar adds that under the new tuition framework introduced in 2013-2014, students are expected to save $700 million over four years.
Bollo-Kamara believes that these financial assistance programs do not go far enough.
“For example, with the 30% Off grant, the majority of students are unable to access it, whether it’s because they’re mature students, or part-time students… and that’s a problem,” she says. “Students who can’t afford to pay their tuition fees up front are paying more for their education than students who can.”
International tuition fees
In spite of increasing tuition fees, international student enrollment has increased beyond expectations.
In 2010, the provincial government announced Open Ontario, a five-year plan that included increasing the number of international student enrolled in the province by 50 per cent to a total of 57,000 by 2015.
According to Nazar, over 76,000 international students are currently enrolled full-time in the province — twice the international student enrollment in 2010.
During these five years, the University of Toronto has increased international student enrolment by 71.2 per cent, from 8,482 to 14,524, while international tuition fees for incoming Arts & Science undergraduates have increased by 65.3 per cent, from $21,344 to $35,280.
The university maintains that international tuition fees are competitive globally. Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T’s director of media relations, says that the university “is the only one that is consistently ranked #1 in Canada and in the top 20 internationally.”
“Our international fees are very competitive in this global context (and are actually closer to the middle range than the high end),” she says.
The university does acknowledge the contributions that international students provide to the university in choosing to study here.
“These students contribute to the international character of the University, and their presence provides opportunities in our academic and co-curricular programs for the enhanced exchange of knowledge,” Blackburn-Evans says. “Outstanding students from all parts of the world contribute to the excellence for which the University is known.”
Bollo-Kamara sees the lack of regulation of international tuition fees as the problem, saying that international students pay much more for their education even though “they’re sitting in the same classes we’re sitting in, have access to the same professors.”
She also notes that international students make a significant contribution to the provincial economy.
“International students live here and they work here. International students contributed about $3 billion to the Ontario economy,” she says, citing a report by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade released in 2012.
The report also says that international students in Ontario contributed $202.9 million in government revenue and nearly 30,000 jobs in 2010, the same year the Open Ontario Plan was announced.