This is what U of T stakeholders have to say about Ford’s drastic postsecondary education changes

Takeaways: student groups concerned with lack of consultation, U of T to review budgets

This is what U of T stakeholders have to say about Ford’s drastic postsecondary education changes

Stakeholder groups at U of T are reacting to a surprise announcement made earlier today by Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton regarding cuts to postsecondary education.

Premier Doug Ford’s government announced that Ontario colleges and universities will have to slash domestic tuition by 10 per cent next academic year and freeze it for the following two years. In addition, there is now a mandate to create an online opt-out system for “non-essential” student fees, such as fees collected for student clubs, as well as cuts to the Ontario Student Assistant Program.

 

In a statement to The Varsity, U of T President Meric Gertler said, “We will do all we can to limit the impact of these changes on the U of T community.”

“We need to review our budgets to assess the full impact of these changes,” said Gertler. “We feel it’s important to remain firm in our long-standing access guarantee: That financial circumstances should not stand in the way of a qualified student entering or completing their degree.”

U of T’s statement did not mention how it would respond to the mandatory opt-out option for “non-essential” student fees.

According to Fullerton, universities and colleges will have some “leeway” over which groups will be deemed necessary.

— Meric Gertler, U of T President

 

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) — the largest student union at U of T — released a statement a few hours after the announcement criticizing the provincial government’s decisions.

“The UTSU is deeply concerned with the changes relating to non-tuition fees, or ‘ancillary fees’, which fund vital programs and services enriching the lives of students across the province… The risk of significant funding reductions, direct or indirect, would be grave and irrevocably change campus life.”

The UTSU added that it will be “working with campus partners and other stakeholders across the province” on this issue.

— The University of Toronto Students’ Union executive

 

President of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) Mala Kashyap expressed concerns about the impact of the announced changes in a statement to The Varsity. “Part-time and mature students are already often excluded from access to government and institutional funding. We are waiting for more details regarding the announced changes.”

It remains unclear whether or not the announced tuition cuts will affect part-time students.

— Mala Kashyap, Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students President

 

Haseeb Hassaan, President of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), told The Varsity that ASSU was “disturbed” by the policy announcements.

“We implore UofT administrators and President Gertler to protect students unions who provide essential services to students. ASSU will work with other college societies, unions and clubs on campus and across the province to act.”

— Haseeb Hassaan, Arts and Science Students’ Union President

 

The Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS–O) quickly responded, calling the initiative a “transparent attempt to bankrupt students’ unions in the province.” The statement further emphasized that all proposed changes are detrimental to students and campus workers.

“Students were not consulted in this process. The Ford government is looking to dismantle public post-secondary education and is attempting to eliminate the opposition to do it.”

Sami Pritchard, the National Executive Representative for the CFSO, criticized the decision as a “cynical move” from the government to “undermine” organizations poised to fight cuts to postsecondary education.

“Students remain undeterred and will unite with workers in Ontario to protect quality, public post-secondary education and defend students’ right to independent democratic representation,” Pritchard said in a statement posted online.

— Canadian Federation of StudentsOntario

 

The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), which is an opt-out U of T-levy group, released a statement on Facebook earlier today, criticizing the Ford government’s plans.

OPIRG especially expressed concerns about the future of student group funding and the services that they provide. Though students can already opt out of services, the provincial government’s execution of this policy makes it difficult for such groups to advocate for certain causes and resources.

The only difference between how this is set up now, and how the PC’s want it to be set up is that we no longer have that month long period to show students why they should continue to fund organizations like OPIRG, Students for Barrier-free Access or LGBTOUT. We no longer get the opportunity to have discussions with students face to face about what we actually do.”

OPIRG is part of an international network of Public Interest Research Groups, 11 of which are in Ontario.

— Ontario Public Interest Research Group

 

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario President Fred Hahn slammed the government’s announcement as an “attack on student democracy on campuses.”

“These cuts were made without consultation with the University sector, and will have damaging impacts for students for a long time to come,” Hahn said in a statement posted on CUPE Ontario’s website. “Doug Ford’s insiders have attempted to cover up a devastating attack on students with a paper-thin discount on tuition that will cost students more in the long run.”

Hahn claimed that the government was “looking out for itself” with the decision to slash fees.

“Student democracy, through elections and referendums, should determine student fees, not government insiders,” Hahn said.

CUPE represents thousands of workers at U of T, including librarians, service workers, teaching assistants, exam invigilators, and student and postdoctoral course instructors.

— Fred Hahn, Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario President

 

Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), echoed Hahn’s statement and described the government’s announcement as a “full frontal attack on democracy.”

“[The decision] turns legislature committee pre-budget hearings into a sham,” Thomas wrote on Twitter. “Ontario colleges and universities still have lowest per student funding in Canada. Student debt will not go down. No winners with today’s tuition cut announcement.”

OPSEU represents thousands of public sector employees in the province. The union represents Campus Police at U of T and research officers and associates at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

— Warren “Smokey” Thomas, Ontario Public Service Employees Union President

 

The Canadian University Press (CUP), a non-profit cooperative owned by student newspapers across the country, including The Varsity, said Thursday that student publications are “essential” services to people in postsecondary institutions, and expressed its disappointment in the announcement.

“Our members offer scrutiny to university and college administrations, ensuring that there is transparency in university governance,” CUP wrote. “However, most of our member papers rely on student fees to fund their work. Without access to this funding, Ontario student publications will not be able to operate.”

The organization also criticized the apparent lack of consultation with students as “further proof that the Ford government does not truly have the interests of students in mind.”

“This decision is a direct hit to institutional transparency, healthy democratic dialogues on campus, freedom of the press and the free speech that the Ford government claims so strongly to defend.”

— Canadian University Press executive

 

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union likewise released a statement against the changes, stating that it “will not stand for this and will continue to fight for you to ensure that this government’s unilateral decision-making does not go unchecked.”

“We want to make it clear, that a step to lowering tuition fees is certainly a step in the right direction, but this is not the case with this announcement,” the statement said.

— The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union executive

 

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA), which is affiliated with Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party, spoke out in favour of these cuts, citing the sharp spike in tuition under the previous Liberal government. 

“Unfortunately, undergraduate tuition for Ontario students has risen from an average of $5,000 to almost $9,000 since 2006. The previous Liberal government was unable to stop post-secondary education from becoming increasingly unaffordable. That is why OPCCA supports the Ontario PC Government’s action for the Affordability of Postsecondary Education in Ontario.” 

The OPCCA also spoke in favour of the reforms to OSAP, claiming that the government is now better equipped to assist low-income students. It also supports changes to student fees, claiming that they are often used to “fund third-party advocacy groups known for controversial agendas and financial mismanagement” like the Canadian Federation of Students and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. The statement claims that these groups have been promoting radical causes, such as “abolishing capitalism and boycotting Canada’s ally Israel.”

The OPCCA, did, however, say that campus media, activities, and clubs are worthwhile, and that “when students are free to choose which school initiatives to fund, these student groups will be incentivized to show their value to students who might not otherwise get involved.”

— Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association

Statement by The Varsity on announcement by the Ford government

A letter from the editors

Statement by <i>The Varsity</i> on announcement by the Ford government

Today, the Ford government announced sweeping changes to the tuition and student fee frameworks at colleges and universities across the province.

Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton stated that students will be able to opt out of fees that are deemed non-essential. The services that the province views as “essential” are those related to health and safety, like walksafe programs, athletics, and counselling. Universities and colleges will decide the rest.

The Varsity is extremely concerned about the impact these changes may have on the future of the student press in Ontario.

All students benefit from the student press. Recently, The Varsity broke the story of Muslim Students’ Association executives receiving surprise visits from law enforcement. We followed the progress of U of T’s controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy, and we examined the implications of the university’s investments in offshore tax havens.

Student journalists are often the only ones to hold colleges and universities accountable for their actions, but this policy may allow the schools themselves to determine whether or not student journalism is “essential.”

Student media is the platform for students to make their voices heard, and a fee opt-out could seriously threaten the future of our operations. A government that postures as an advocate for free speech on campus must recognize that student journalism is the bastion of campus free speech.

We call on the Ontario government to recognize that campus journalism is unquestionably an essential service. We are hopeful that the University of Toronto will recognize that The Varsity, like all campus media, is vital to the integrity of this institution as a stronghold of freedom of speech — and freedom of the press.

 Jack O. Denton, Editor-in-Chief & Reut Cohen, Managing Editor

Ontario universities must slash tuition by 10 per cent, non-needs-based OSAP to be eliminated, government says

Non-essential non-tuition fees no longer mandatory, potentially affecting student unions, Hart House

Ontario universities must slash tuition by 10 per cent, non-needs-based OSAP to be eliminated, government says

In an unexpected move, the provincial government announced sweeping changes to domestic tuition, the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), and student levy fees on January 17. In her press conference, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton repeatedly stated that the government was “putting students first.”

Sweeping changes to OSAP

Fullerton announced changes to the six-month grace period on loans, an expansion of grants to low-income students, and decreases to the number of grants and loans provided to students with a household income of above $50,000 — stating that all Ontario students will still be eligible to apply for OSAP, but that the government will be focusing on helping lower-income students.

Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, and MPP for Northumberland—Peterborough South David Piccini, who stood behind Fullerton as she announced these changes, spoke to The Varsity on the specifics of the announcement and echoed Fullerton’s sentiments.

According to Piccini, the six-month grace period, which allows students to begin repaying provincial student loans six months after graduation, will remain. However, interest will accrue on the loans immediately after graduation, a change from the former system, which delayed interest until after the six-month period.

Piccini justified this decision by saying that it would align with the process of repaying federal government loans.

The government will also be eliminating the non-needs-based portion of the Ontario Student Grant for recipients of OSAP, according to Fullerton’s press release, giving a larger portion of grants to low-income households.

“We’re restoring trust and accountability. We’re restoring the integrity of the OSAP system so that it’s there for those who need it.”

Tuition cuts

Ontario universities and colleges will have to slash domestic tuition by 10 per cent for the 2019–2020 academic year and freeze it for another year, Fullerton also announced.

“Tuition was never free,” she said.

In response to a question about how universities and colleges will be expected to make up for lost revenue, Fullerton said, “There are different ways they can adapt… They will be able to determine what they need to do.”

Based on the 2017–2018 intake numbers, current tuition fees, and current university-wide operating budget, The Varsity estimates that the proposed 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition would cost the university at least $43 million in income from undergraduates alone.

According to The Varsity’s estimates, the cut would be equivalent to about $10 million less than all OSAP loans awarded to first-year Arts & Science students in 2017.

Currently, most domestic first-year Arts & Science undergraduate student at U of T pays about $6,780 and would see an annual savings of $678, with savings potentially increasing depending on year and program of study.

A student entering deregulated programs, including Rotman Commerce and computer science, paid more than $12,500 this academic year, and may see a minimum saving of $1,250. Engineering students may see a minimum $1,500 reduction from their average $15,000 annual tuition. It is currently unclear whether or not these programs will be affected by the tuition cuts.

Piccini emphasized the benefits of tuition cuts to students, saying that most student unions and groups prioritize rising tuition costs when addressing concerns on postsecondary education.

“I think everyone’s going to benefit from a tuition decrease,” said Piccini. “My phone has been blowing up overnight from constituents and students in my riding who are very excited at the prospect of cheaper tuition.”

Official Opposition Critic for Colleges and Universities MPP Chris Glover told The Varsity that he had consulted with the Canadian Federation of Students after learning of the tuition cuts.

“Students are not going to benefit from this. Students are going to be the losers in this announcement.”

Opting out of student fees

Finally, the provincial government has also announced that most non-tuition student fees will no longer be mandatory. This would apply to “non-essential” groups and services, which appear to range from student handbooks to clubs. The services identified as “essential” by the government include walksafe programs, counselling, athletics, and academic support.

Institutions will be required to create an online opt-out system for non-essential fees. However, the distinction of what falls under “essential” and “non-essential” will apparently be made at the discretion of the institution.

When asked by The Varsity if the government had consulted with universities and students, Fullerton affirmed that it had but did not provide specifics regarding which groups.

“Students are adults and we are treating them as such by giving them the freedom to clearly see where their fees are currently being allocated,” said Fullerton. She added that institutions will adapt, and the government was trying to challenge them to innovate.

Fullerton clarified that it will be “up to the institutions” to decide the “essential categories for student fees and… fees that they will be able to opt out of.”

“There is leeway for the institutions to have a say in that.”

 

However, there is confusion around who has the ultimate say in determining what is “essential” and “non-essential,” as well as how the government would enforce its mandate.

Piccini said that universities will be able to develop these policies “at their discretion.”

“Universities are autonomous, and we’ve outlined a policy to give students choice, and we certainly hope students will be given choice in this.”

However, Piccini also said repeatedly during the interview with The Varsity that “there has to be an opt-out option.” He further added that, while these changes might not mean much to students in “downtown Toronto,” students he has seen struggle with paying for postsecondary education will greatly benefit.

The historic policy decision on mandatory fees could mean that certain student groups will lose a debilitating portion of their funding if students choose to opt out of fees.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2017–2018 audited financial statements shows that about 72 per cent of its $2.2 million revenue came from student fees. UTSG students currently pay around $200 per semester to the UTSU, although $171.54 of that is refundable, including the Health and Dental Plan.

Hart House also heavily relies on mandatory fees, as its 2017–2018 budget states that 52 per cent of its $17.7 million revenue comes from students. The typical full-time UTSG undergraduate student pays $86.38 per semester, while full-time UTM and UTSC undergraduate students pay $2.65.

— With files from Kevin Lu and Julie Shi