Labour groups request meeting with Gertler to discuss changes to postsecondary funding

Joint letter calls on Gertler to help counter “threats to learning and employment”

Labour groups request meeting with Gertler to discuss changes to postsecondary funding

Five Toronto labour organizations which collectively represent 21,208 staff and faculty at U of T penned a joint letter to President Meric Gertler on May 8 requesting to meet for a discussion on the Ford government’s recent changes to postsecondary funding.  

CUPE 1230, CUPE 3261, CUPE 3902, the United Steelworkers Local 1998, and the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) wrote to Gertler and the university’s three Vice-Presidents to express their dismay at what they call “the provincial government’s threats to learning and employment at the University of Toronto.”

The labour groups had numerous concerns, including how the provincial government’s decision to cut domestic tuition by 10 per cent comes “after years of underfunding universities.” They also criticized the government’s move to slash $670 million from student assistance programs.

The groups were also “deeply concerned” about the decision to render some ancillary fees as optional — allowing students to opt-out of “non-essential” student services and to increase the proportion of “performance-based” funding for Ontario universities from 1.4 per cent in 2018–19 to 60 per cent by 2024–25.

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University will see revenues drop, possible changes to hiring plans

After accounting for Ford’s policies, U of T’s Planning & Budget Committee projected an $88 million revenue reduction for 2019–2020 and a loss of $65 million in 2018–2019.

According to the budget report, the cuts will mean “some combination of changes to faculty and staff hiring plans, deferral of capital projects, service reductions, and operating cost efficiencies.”

P.C. Choo is both the Vice-President of the United Steelworkers Local 1998 and an administrative governor on Governing Council. He told The Varsity that in his capacity as a governor, he does not believe that the university “will be forced to cut salaries.” However, Choo continued, “whether the University will be forced to cut jobs remains very much an open question.”

UTFA President Cynthia Messenger is equally unsure of what’s to come. Messenger told The Varsity in an email that if Gertler would be willing to meet with UTFA and the other unions, she would hope to “discuss ways in which together we could protest the Ford government’s attacks on universities.”

Despite the heightened rhetoric the labour groups employed at times toward the Progressive Conservative government, Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, defended the government’s plans.

Tanya Blazina, Fullerton’s media relation representative, told The Varsity that the changes the government is putting forward are “modern, forward thinking, and will lead to good jobs.”

Tying funding to “student and economic outcomes” reflects the government’s priority of making Ontario “Open for Business”, Blazina wrote, while restoring sustainability to the province’s postsecondary sector.

Blazina is referring to the government’s plan to base provincial funding for universities on how well the schools are performing on a number of metrics, as opposed to enrolment numbers. This decision was also criticized by the unions in their letter.

In an email to The Varsity, university spokesperson Elizabeth Church writes that the university is responding directly to the writers of the letter.

“We know how hard our students and their families work to get a university education,” writes Church. “We remain firm in our long-standing access guarantee – financial circumstances will not stand in the way of a qualified student entering or completing a degree.”

U of T President Meric Gertler on international student fees

Gertler: U of T looks “at what our peer institutions are doing” to set tuition levels

U of T President Meric Gertler on international student fees

In an interview with The Varsity, U of T President Meric Gertler explained comments he recently made in a BBC News interview, in which he said that increasing international tuition led to an increase in demand from international students, saying that the university also takes other factors such as funding and peer institutions into account.

In the BBC interview, Gertler said that because of a higher education market driven by status, people seemed to have a “hard time reconciling” U of T as an inexpensive postsecondary institution and yet a top-30 university.

“When we increased price, we found demand went up — as did the quality of the applications,” Gertler said to BBC.

Speaking to The Varsity shortly after the BBC interview, Gertler said that the university took other factors into consideration when setting tuition fees for international students, especially given the fact that neither the federal nor provincial government provide postsecondary institutions with funding for non-domestic students. The university thus has to cover the “full costs associated with educating those students.”

When asked if U of T increased its fees in part as a way to attract more students from abroad, Gertler said that this was not the case.

“While many of our international students do not require financial assistance, a significant number of them do,” he said. “We have been able to — through the international tuition revenues that we have brought in — fund some international student scholarships.”

The president also mentioned that U of T looks “at what our peer institutions are doing,” in terms of setting fee levels, including in public university systems in places like California, Washington, and Michigan. “We obviously want to be in the similar bands to them,” he said. “We don’t want to be higher and we also don’t want to be lower.”

Gertler said that another factor is the cost of “various services that ensure that [international students] are prepared for a successful experience while they are students here. So there’s special counselling, Centre for International Experience, and things like that that are relevant.”

Tuition fee increases are set differently for domestic and international students. Under provincial regulations, domestic fees cannot be increased past a certain ceiling every year. International fees are unregulated, meaning the university can increase them at a higher rate than for domestic students. Fee increases are proposed by senior administration officials and approved by Governing Council, U of T’s highest decision-making body.

As for the rising number of international students at U of T, Gertler explained that this was due to the university’s active drive to recruit overseas.

“We compared our international enrolment to other peer institutions and found that we were actually lower than a lot of our peers,” he said. “While it’s true that Toronto is a very global city, we found that the university wasn’t quite as globalized as the city itself,” Gertler added, noting that students benefit from having more international students in the classroom.

Around 16.2 per cent of the University of Washington’s Seattle campus students and roughly 14 per cent of the University of Michigan’s students were international.

According to U of T’s 2017–2018 numbers, around 21.3 per cent of students were international.

International fees background

If it seems like international student fees are ever-increasing, you’re not wrong. An undergraduate student entering the University of Toronto in 2019 will pay as much as $59,230 in tuition fees, or roughly four per cent more than someone just the previous year. A student entering U of T in 2015 paid as much as $43,540, or 36 per cent less than in 2019.

According to Statistics Canada, it’s part of a general trend across the country. Data collected by the federal agency shows that the average tuition for an international student rose 6.3 per cent for the 2018–2019 academic year, not including incidental fees and other day-to-day expenses.