Don't opt out: click here to learn more about our work.

Ontario’s 2019 budget reveals plan to significantly tie university funding to performance outcomes

Budget plans to lower average faculty retirement age, confirms cuts to tuition, OSAP

Ontario’s 2019 budget reveals plan to significantly tie university funding to performance outcomes

Premier Doug Ford’s first provincial budget since coming into office announced sweeping changes to the funding model for universities and colleges, which will now have a significant proportion of their funding tied to performance indicators such as skills and job outcomes, as opposed to enrolment numbers.

While previous agreements with the province outlined that only 1.4 per cent of funding would be tied to performance, the Ford government plans to increase this to 60 per cent by 2024–2025.

This means that the 25 per cent of revenue that U of T receives from provincial grants would be contingent on whether it meets guidelines set out by the government or not.

Also proposed in the budget were plans to potentially lower the average retirement age of faculty in a bid to decrease salary costs and herald in a more “dynamic” workforce.

The budget confirmed previously-announced cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and tuition without offering much new information on these plans.

Strategic Mandate Agreement and changes to provincial funding models

In a sweeping change, the province will now be tying 60 per cent of postsecondary funding to performance outcomes by the 2024–2025 academic year, up from 1.4 per cent for universities and 1.2 per cent for colleges currently.

This means that the amount of money a school receives will now be principally based on how well it is doing on a number of metrics, including skills outcomes, job outcomes, and economic and community impact.

The government is doing this in an effort to ensure that students have a reasonable prospect of employment after graduation.

This plan will be cemented in the next round of Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs), which are bilateral arrangements between the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and each of Ontario’s 45 publicly assisted colleges and universities. SMAs outline how much money the province will provide to schools over a multi-year period.

The percentage tied to performance will be increased incrementally, beginning with 25 per cent in 2020–2021 when the current SMAs expire, and going up by 10 per cent for three years and by five per cent in the last year.

The final target of 60 per cent was chosen to provide enough incentive for universities to follow through on their performance commitments. It is unclear what the remaining 40 per cent of funding would be tied to.

Though the specific metrics have not been released yet, the budget indicated that the number of metrics would be reduced from 28 to 10 for universities, and by 38 to 10 for colleges. One out of 10 metrics can be decided by the schools themselves.

Currently, U of T’s factors include student experience, innovation, research impact, and access and equity.

Universities and colleges will also “have the flexibility to weigh the metrics that best reflect their differentiated strategic goals and will be measured against their own targets based on historical performance.”

Faculty retirement

In an attempt to ensure a “dynamic university workforce,” the province wants to introduce amendments to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act, apparently to lower the average faculty retirement age.

“The average retirement age of faculty has been increasing, suggesting that employees are remaining in their positions longer and limiting turnover that would bring in earlier career professionals with new teaching methods and increase diversity,” the budget states.

It pointed to the cost implications of a higher retirement age, since older faculty tend to have the highest salaries and benefits, and sometimes are also simultaneously receiving pension payments.

The budget did not provide details on what the proposed amendments would be, only that they would help “achieve a more sustainable postsecondary sector and employee renewal.”

OSAP

Though the government had announced earlier this year that it would be eliminating non-needs-based OSAP grants, there was no mention of this in the budget.

Instead, the budget reiterated an earlier pledge that 82 per cent of grants will now go to students whose families earn less than $50,000, which is up from 76 per cent under the Liberal government.

The cuts to OSAP were justified as an effort to fix a “financially unsustainable” program inherited from the previous Liberal government. According to a 2018 report from the Auditor General of Ontario, OSAP is projected to cost up to $2 billion by the 2020–2021 fiscal year, representing a 50 per cent increase from 2016–2017.

The OSAP changes are estimated to save the government at least $325 million annually.

Tuition

The budget also did not reveal considerable new information about the Ford government’s proposal to decrease tuition by 10 per cent next year across the board and freeze it for the following year.

The budget estimated that the tuition cut will save Ontario students around $450 million, with the average undergraduate arts and science student saving $660.

There is currently a concern among universities and colleges as to how to make up for the loss of revenue, and there was little information in the budget about whether the province would provide assistance, though the province “will administer a fund to help smaller Northern institutions adjust to the tuition rate reduction.”

Student Choice Initiative

There was also no new information on the Student Choice Initiative, which is the mandate for postsecondary institutions to have an opt-out option for certain incidental fees, such as student union fees.

According to the budget, “fees that fund major campus-wide services and facilities, such as existing transit pass agreements, and those that support essential campus health and safety initiatives will continue to be mandatory,” which was already publicly available information.

U of T student unions sign open letter against Ford government

UTSU, UTGSU, UTMSU joined by 75 student unions across Canada

U of T student unions sign open letter against Ford government

Seventy-five student unions across Canada have signed an open letter to Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) Merrilee Fullerton condemning the government’s recent changes to postsecondary education funding.

The letter, first released by Carleton University’s student newspaper The Charlatan on January 29, calls on Ford and Fullerton to reverse the decision mandating Ontario universities to develop an “opt-out” system for “non-essential” student fees. It also calls the changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program “disappointing” and a “firm step backwards.”

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) are among the signatories.

The letter compares the government’s decision to implement an opt-out option on incidental fees — a policy that Fullerton labelled the “Student Choice Initiative” —  as similar to if taxpayers were allowed to opt out of paying for services like a police force and public libraries.

The student unions write that the Student Choice Initiative puts on-campus services funded by incidental fees at risk, specifically services such as “health and dental plans, peer-to-peer support, on-campus press, support services like food banks and more.”

“Students will be less safe, more vulnerable to failure and less able to gain the skills and work-related experience they’ll need to find jobs after graduation.”

The unions also expressed concern about how the Student Choice Initiative would affect mental health and sexual assault support services, as well as on-campus jobs.

The letter ends with the student unions calling on the Ford government to reverse the mandate and to consult with student associations, labour unions, and institutions on how the initiative will create a less prepared workforce and one “saddled with debt.”

“By making postsecondary less accessible to middle and low-income families, and by jeopardizing student experience on campus, your government is actively standing in the way of growing that workforce.”

UTSU President Anne Boucher confirmed to The Varsity that the UTSU had joined with the other Canadian student unions in the letter.

“We wanted to show a level of solidarity with the other groups across Ontario,” wrote Boucher.

The University of British Columbia’s Alma Mater Society, the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, and the University of New Brunswick Student Union are also among the student associations that signed the letter.

The Varsity has reached out to the UTMSU and the UTGSU for comment.

In Photos: Students gather in Queen’s Park to protest cuts to OSAP, university funding

The emergency rally was held on January 18

In Photos: Students gather in Queen’s Park to protest cuts to OSAP, university funding

Tuition cuts will also apply to MBA and JD programs, says MPP

Clarification from MPP Robin Martin is first confirmation that cuts apply to these programs

Tuition cuts will also apply to MBA and JD programs, says MPP

Progressive Conservative MPP Robin Martin has confirmed that the Ontario government’s 10 per cent tuition cuts will apply to Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Juris Doctor (JD) programs.

This was also further confirmed by MPP for Northumberland—Peterborough South and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities David Piccini to The Varsity

The cuts are part of sweeping changes to postsecondary education announced by the Ontario government on January 17.

In an email to a constituent that was reviewed by The Varsity, Martin wrote, “The 10% reduction is an across-the-board reduction which applies to both the MBA and JD programs at U of T.”

Martin represents Eglinton—Lawrence and is the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care.

The Ontario government has not specified whether it will support schools in making up for the lost revenue, although Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton said during her announcement that, “There are different ways [schools] can adapt… They will be able to determine what they need to do.”

In addition to tuition cuts, universities and colleges across the province will also see changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and student levy fees.

The rising costs of law school have recently spurred action from U of T students, who began a campaign in October to call on the school to provide more support.

Survival strategies for the Ford era

We need to stick up for each other, whether with our time, words, or money

Survival strategies for the Ford era

As Ontario’s favourite Labels and Tags aristocrat sweeps into office, the future of our sweet settler province is starting to seem a little cloudy. We no longer have a kindly lesbian with a no-nonsense haircut representing us in Queen’s Park and, like, bleeding on stuff or doing whatever it is that female politicians do.

Instead, we elected her very antithesis — and now we need to deal with it. However, unlike white wealthy men stumbling into positions of power, this is easier said than done. Everyday, we’re inundated with a range of international issues that demand and deserve our attention. The fact that many of us get to choose what to care about or pay attention to is an incredible privilege.

Nevertheless, the constant onslaught can be a lot to carry.

Personally, the rotting trust fund club that is global politics smacks me in the sternum whenever I open my phone to a goddamn New York Times push alert. That alone gets tiring.

Now I open CBC — usually the home of classical music and soothing radio personalities — to distressing headlines from my home province, my home cities, my home schools. It’s a stark and startling change. How to cope?

1. Do something about it. If you care about health curriculum rollbacks, email the Education Minister. Thanks to bureaucracy, if there’s an issue, there’s a minister. So make your voice heard. Go to protests — heck, organize a protest. Sit on the lawn of Queen’s Park and just fart loudly for a few hours if it makes you feel better. But don’t sit still and complain. If you’re lucky enough to not be directly impacted by the Ford government’s new policies, care for those who are.

2. Okay, now you’ve done something. Keep doing the thing. Get others to do the thing with you.

3. Alright, you’re really doing the thing. So are your roommates and your mom and your chiropractor. Are you tired? Yes. Okay, I respect that. Go home! Make a big pot of pasta. Cover the pasta in something rich in cholesterol and low in nutrients. And have it with a glass of wine on the side and someone you love in front of you. Talk about something silly. Like farts. Can you tell I have a true weakness for scatalogical humour? Oops.

4. Another nice way to unwind? Queer Eye. Say what you will about the show, but there is something so precious and wholesome about its lovely cast that it makes everything seem a little lighter. Plus, with Jonathan van Ness around, you’re pretty much going to church.

5. Turn off the tech! I tend to roll my eyes at The Olds constantly bemoaning the rise of smartphones and the decline of ‘real, human interaction,’ but sometimes it’s nice to swipe over into airplane mode. You don’t need to dissociate entirely, but give yourself a few hours off the news cycle. The news will go on. Haven’t you heard? CTV never sleeps.

6. Do all the classic self-care ritual junk that has been floating around the internet like single use plastic on our oceans’ surfaces. Will a Korean face mask make Ontario Great Again? No, but it might clean out your pores. And honey, based on how stressed I’ve been lately, those boys are clogged!

7. Oh god, okay, I’m gonna have to hit you with another Wholesome Tidbit — but, exercise. I know, I know, I just mentioned heavy carbs. But balance! Yes, our bodies are just flesh vessels, but sometimes it’s nice to get the blood going. I am the kind of embarrassing person who lip syncs along to my music while on the treadmill and occasionally — okay, often — air drums. I also sometimes upper-body dance, which manifests in a strange abdominal wiggle. Do I get hit on at the gym? Rarely.

8. Sit in the park with someone you love, or could love, or might be falling in love with. Friends or otherwise, INTJ or ENTJ, sometimes we all need a little human connection.

9. I am earnest to a fault and can’t help myself with this one, but don’t lose heart! We’ve got a long road ahead, and speaking out can get tiring. Don’t try to do everything all the time. You’re only human and you only have so many hours in a day.

If you’re lucky enough to be ensconced in privilege and emerge intact from Ford’s rollbacks, congratulations! But that’s no free pass. We need to stick up for each other, whether it’s with our time, words, or money. Just remember to put your own oxygen mask on first, too.

Ontario’s marijuana regulation plan is neither inclusive nor effective

The provincial government should permit private dispensaries and designated establishments for consumption

Ontario’s marijuana regulation plan is neither inclusive nor effective

On September 8, 2017, Ontario became the first province in Canada to publicly release an official plan for the upcoming legalization of marijuana. The federal government seeks to legalize by July 1, 2018 but has left it up to individual provinces’ discretion to determine the finer details of how the substance will be sold, who will be allowed to consume it, and where usage will be permitted.

Whether Ontario’s plans will be successful remains to be seen, but the government’s emphasis on publicly-owned stores and privatized consumption could ultimately work to its detriment.

The framework issued by the Ontario government has three key features.

First, marijuana will legally only be sold online and in stand-alone stores run by a subsidiary corporation of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), thereby establishing a government monopoly of all legal consumption. This means all private dispensaries will remain illegal and will continue to be prosecuted.

In this vein, the Ontario government plans to have 40 stores open across the province by July 2018, some in places where illegal dispensaries are already located. That number will increase to 80 stores by July 1, 2019 and 150 by 2020. In addition, an online system will be implemented by July 2018 to ensure the wide expansion of the market, especially in catering to more remote areas where it is less likely for official stores to be established.

The second feature of the framework is that sale and consumption are limited to those at or over the age of 19, in line with the legal alcohol consumption age. If caught, underage users will have their marijuana confiscated, though the government has stated the enforcement focus will be on “prevention, diversion, and harm reduction without unnecessarily bringing [youth] into contact with the justice system.”

Finally, all consumption will be restricted to private residences, at least for the time being. Private businesses catering to consumption, such as vapour lounges, will not be permitted.    

For a number of reasons, the provincial government’s proposed framework for legalization is neither effective at discouraging illegal consumption nor inclusive of users. Allowing private dispensaries and designated consumption establishments to operate alongside government-owned stores would be a more effective approach to regulation.

Legalize private dispensaries

Jenna Valleriani is a U of T PhD candidate in Sociology and Addiction Studies whose research focuses on medical marijuana. Valleriani was disappointed but not particularly surprised when she learned Ontario had decided to pursue a government-controlled distribution model.

“I was really intrigued that the whole conversation was framed as an either or,” Valleriani said. Like many other critics of the proposed plan, she would like to see a mix of both government stores as well as licensed and regulated private stores in order to offer Ontarians “the best of both worlds.”

Contrary to popular perception, the dispensaries that currently operate in Toronto are doing so illegally — and this will not change under the new legalization plan. However, Valleriani believes that most dispensary owners would likely welcome the chance to become licensed and conduct their business legally. Dispensaries have been thriving for a long time in spite of police crackdowns and security issues — it is questionable whether the new regulations will do much to change that fact.   

Restricting legal purchase to government-run stores also raises the question of supply. Establishing 150 dispensaries in Ontario — a goal that will only theoretically be reached in three years — is nothing compared to the high number of illegal dispensaries that are currently supplying users with their product. Legitimizing just a fraction of establishments will severely limit access, even with online sales.

Though Health Canada has doubled its staff to accelerate the licensing process for marijuana producers, many industry experts estimate that customers will still face shortages in the first few years of legalization due to lack of supply. Shortages, in turn, would send customers right back to the illicit market, which is exactly what the government is trying to avoid.

Private stores are also popular for the sheer variety of products they offer. Valleriani believes it is highly unlikely that government stores will sell oils and edibles — products that consumers have been obtaining from dispensaries over the years.       

On top of this, the continuation of policing, shutting down, and prosecuting dispensaries is a wasteful burden on already strained law enforcement and court resources. Targeting dispensaries in this way has been largely ineffective; where one store shuts down, another pops up in its place. In fact, alleviating this burden from the criminal justice system was one of the main reasons for decriminalizing marijuana in the first place. If Ontario continues to shut out private establishments from the market, it will be back to square one.

Working with dispensaries instead of against them could avoid all of these problems; a more open, mixed system of regulation has better chances of squashing the illicit market.

Legalize public consumption establishments

The plan also restricts consumption to private residences for the time being. The government has expressed plans to consult on the “feasibility and implications of introducing designated establishments where recreational cannabis could be consumed” — a proposal that is vague and shows a lack of real commitment to legalizing said establishments, which ought to be a priority moving forward.

The current plan’s emphasis on private residences as the only place for consumption is not inclusive, and it prioritizes homeowners. It leaves people who rent, lease, live in shelters, or are homeless without a safe or legal place to consume. Residents who don’t own the buildings they live in are left at the whims of their landlords as to whether or not they are allowed to consume in their homes. It is well within the powers of condominium boards or apartment building managements to ban marijuana on their property. Therefore, these residents are put at increased risk of incurring criminal charges when they inevitably turn to public places to consume.

This rule also disproportionately affects students of legal age, including those who live on residence during the school year. Dormitories are owned and controlled by the university, and U of T is a public establishment. It is unclear whether students will be banned from consuming marijuana on campus — particularly in light of recent announcements that the university is investigating a smoking ban. Legalizing designated establishments for consumption would provide students with a safe alternative.

At the same time, Valleriani recalls a professor at Trinity College, now retired, who was prescribed marijuana for medical purposes. Accommodations were made to set up a sort of ‘vapour lounge’ area for him in the basement of the college. The existence of bars near and on U of T campuses, events where drinking is permitted, and the designated smoking spaces currently in place on campus show that it is possible to make allowances for the consumption of controlled substances.

The idea of creating a designated place for consumption at U of T is not as outrageous as it may sound, and Valleriani thinks universities will ultimately need to “figure something out.”  Such an arrangement, however, would require the legalization of designated establishments for consumption, an option that the proposed regulation framework does not allow.

With nine short months until marijuana legalization launches in July, little time remains for Ontario to perfect its plan. Costs of purchase, whether the product will be taxed, and where government stores will be set up are decisions that have yet to be made. In this time, the government also needs to critically evaluate their plan and recognize its weaknesses in achieving the ultimate goal of eliminating the marijuana black market. Legalizing private dispensaries and designated consumption establishments will help bridge those gaps.    

Ramsha Naveed is a third-year student at Trinity College studying Political Science.

Editor’s Note (September 25): This article has been updated to clarify that the sentence “a more open, mixed system of regulation has better chances of squashing the illicit market” is the opinion of the author and not Valleriani. 

HEQCO report calls U of T “Ontario’s flagship Institution”

Report criticizes funding mechanism for post-secondary institutions for only rewarding enrolment growth

HEQCO report calls U of T “Ontario’s flagship Institution”

A provincial government report has found that U of T is playing a lead role among Ontario’s universities.

The report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) entitled, “The Differentiation of the Ontario University System: Where are we now and where should we go?” singled out the University of Toronto as “Ontario’s flagship institution.” This report looked at the differentiation of universities in Ontario based on equitable access, student acceptance, the learning environment, and student graduate achievements.

The report indicated that University of Toronto is excelling in notable platforms such as a strong and equitable learning environment, as well as being a model for other universities in Ontario.

HEQCO is an independent government agency that is responsible for recommending and researching higher educational policy. HEQCO suggests policies or forms of practice to substantially increase equitable entrance and success for students, and greater financial policies to support students.

University of Toronto president Meric Gertler was elated by the report findings.

“This analysis confirms U of T’s flagship position within the Ontario system, as an institution of research and teaching that is recognized around the world,” Gertler told U of T News.  “We need to do all we can to attract the best minds to our campuses, to provide the best learning environment to our students and give them the kinds of opportunities that prepare them well for lifelong success.”

HEQCO also recommended that U of T could improve in some areas, one of which was in relation to diversification of revenue sources; according to HEQCO the university relies too heavily on enrolment growth.

The report recommends restructuring the funding strategy in order for U of T to maintain its status as an internationally competitive university.

Gertler noted in the U of T News report, “This report acknowledges that a one-size-fits-all funding model makes it increasingly difficult for us to deliver on this commitment.”

Wynne shuffles provincial cabinet

Premier announces seven new ministers and more women in cabinet

Wynne shuffles provincial cabinet

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a shuffle and expansion of her cabinet, which will now contain more female ministers. Wynne stated, “These ministers bring experience, energy, fresh ideas and diversity to the cabinet table.”

Some of the long-term ministers who were also part of former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet will remain, including Charles Sousa as Finance Minister, Eric Hoskins as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, and Glen Murray as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Ontario’s cabinet will be expanded from 27 to 30 minister positions.

“Wynne expanded the size of the cabinet so she could appoint more women,” said Nelson Wiseman, U of T professor of Canadian politics and director of the Canadian Studies program. “I think Wynne felt pressured after Trudeau appointed women to as many cabinet portfolios as men.”

In comparison, Wynne created a 40 per cent female cabinet, and Trudeau created a 50 per cent female cabinet.

Wynne’s expansion also creates three new portfolios, as she divided some of the larger ministries. There are now separate ministers for Housing, International Trade, and Infrastructure.

Included as new members of the cabinet are: Laura Albanese, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Chris Ballard, Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy and Minister of Housing; Marie-France Lalonde, Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs Minister and Minister of Government and Consumer Services; Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry; Eleanor McMahon Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport; Glenn Thibeault, Minister of Energy; and Indira Naidoo-Harris, Associate Minister of Finance (Ontario Retirement Pension Plan).

These changes to the cabinet come after four ministers recently announced their departure, including former Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur and former Chair of Cabinet Jim Bradley.

According to Wiseman, “Election campaign planning begins much earlier now so that MPPs are asked to commit now to whether they will run again in 2018. Since some cabinet ministers were not planning to run, [Wynne] had them resign now to open up some cabinet posts.”

The announcement also included Deputy Premier Deb Matthews’ new appointments as Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development and Minister Responsible for Digital Government.

“Wynne trusts her advice, judgement, and competence,” Wiseman stated.

Matthews’ appointment to Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development will see her take on the responsibilities of the recently revamped Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Previously, Reza Moridi served as Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities; Moridi will now serve as the Minister of Research, Innovation, and Science.

Within her new role, Matthews will be overseeing the launch of the Ontario Student Grant program in September 2017, which is expected to lower or cover the costs of tuition for university students. In addition, Matthews will be charged with equipping the Ontario workforce with the necessary skills in order to compete within the global economy.