International students a “source of profit”

More than 50 per cent tuition increase for incoming international students draws sharp backlash from students

International students a “source of profit”

Incoming Arts & Science international students are being charged $35,280 next year — an increase of 9.2 per cent. U of T is proposing an increase of more than 50 per cent over the next five years. In the past, university administration has claimed that the differential tuition fees for international and domestic students reflect the higher cost of education for international students. This increase, however, is bringing back persistent student concerns that the university sees international students as a profit source.

“International students are absolutely seen as a source of profit by the university,” said Yolen Bollo-Kamara, current vice-president, equity, of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and president-elect. “I have participated in many meetings at which senior members of the university administration identify targets for increased international student enrolment as a way to generate revenue and compensate for gaps in government funding. The discussion always revolves around the money international students bring to the university, as opposed to their academic and social contributions,” she added.

The UTSU and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) have both lobbied for a cap on international tuition fee increases for a number of years.

At present, there are no per-student operating grants for international students. In any given year, the federal and provincial governments subsidize approximately half of the fees incurred by a domestic student, while international students receive no subsidy. Still, the difference between domestic and international tuition fees is expected to expand in the coming years. Afirst-year domestic undergraduate student entering the Faculty of Arts & Science in 2013 pays $5,865. A first-year international undergraduate student entering the Faculty of Arts & Science in 2013 pays $32,075.

Tuition fees for new incoming international students are set to increase by 9.2 per cent next year. Fee increases for existing international students are set to increase by five per cent. On average, tuition fee increases are assumed to be three per cent for domestic students and 6.5% for international students each year of the five-year budget cycle 2014–2015 to 2018–2019. The increases come against the backdrop of U of T budget increases — U of T’s total budget is set to cross the two billion dollar mark for the first time in 2014–2015.

Domestic and international tuition fee schedules are regulated under the new Ontario Tuition Framework, introduced in 2013. Under the new framework, domestic tuition fees are capped at three per cent per year for most programs. Under the previous framework, domestic tuition fees were capped at five per cent per year for most programs. University administration estimated the impact of lowering the regulated rate of increases at $15 million in 2014–2015, growing to $56 million by the end of 2019. On the other hand, international tuition fee increases are unregulated. To that end, some allege that the university continues to increase international tuition fees to make up for funding shortfalls.

The increases in international tuition fees come against the backdrop of a rapidly increasing international student population. In 2002–2003, international students represented 6.5 per cent of the total student population. Today, that number stands at 15.2 per cent.

“As the number of international students has increased over the years, the need to provide additional and specialized services for international students has also grown,” said Laurie Stephens, U of T’s director of media relations.

Stephens cited a number of specialized services provided for international students, including immigration and transition advice, intercultural and learning strategies support, orientation programs, peer mentorship, English communication classes, and social and networking events. The university also offers special bridging programs for some international students.

University administration also maintains that increasing the diversity of the student population leads to a better academic and social experience for all students. “The University of Toronto welcomes the variety of perspectives, viewpoints, and diversity that international students bring to our already diverse campuses. 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,” said Stephens.

Zakary Paget, special assistant, communications, at the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities did not directly address the issue of government funding for international students. However, according to Paget, per-student funding for Ontario universities increased from $6,719 in 2002 to $8,605 by the end of 2013, an increase of 28 per cent. “The government provides funding in a consistent and predictable manner and as autonomous institutions, we expect that schools will manage their financial health in an efficient manner,” he said.

Andrew Langille, a Toronto-based labour lawyer, argued that funding for international students should be increased. “The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities needs to take a hard look at whether there is adequate funding for international student aid at post-secondary institutions in Ontario,” he said. Langille said that increasing funding would be a good retention strategy to keep international students in Ontario after graduation.

Bollo-Kamara recommended that the university reduce international tuition fees, and not allow them to increase at a higher rate than fees for domestic students. She also recommended that the university increase financial aid for international students. In 2012–2013, the university provided just $4.95 million in merit and need-based grants — exclusive of U of T fellowships — to about 1,600 international students.  The university provides more than $150 million in total merit and need-based grants.

Like Bollo-Kamara, Langille also said that the provincial government should look at placing a cap on international tuition fee increases. “Much like tuition fees for domestic students, the tuition fees charged to international students are extreme, unsustainable, and predatory,” he said.

Paget brushed off these concerns: “Tuition fees help to cover the costs of education and help ensure that institutions continue to have the resources needed to maintain high quality and accessible postsecondary education in Ontario,” he added: “The tuition fees for international students are determined by the institutions. Institutions have the flexibility to increase tuition fees for international students by the same amount as domestic students.”

Stephens said that U of T is doing the most that it can with the financial resources provided by the provincial government. The provincial government does not provide grants to universities to support research-stream international graduate students, leaving Ontario universities at a disadvantage when competing with universities in other provinces.

Stephens also said that the university administration is lobbying the provincial government to extend the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) to international students. In 1994, the Ontario government disqualified international students from coverage under OHIP.

Shawn Tian, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU), said that, for some students, international tuition fees might still be cheaper than studying at a domestic institution. He also noted that some countries fully subsidize tuition fees for their citizens to study abroad, so not all international students bear the full financial burden of increased tuition fees.

On the other hand, Tian said that there is no guarantee that revenue from increased tuition fees ends up benefitting students, a reference to the $40 million in within-university subsidies that will be transferred from undergraduate-heavy divisions of the university to graduate-heavy and revenue-poor divisions next year.

U of T contemplates participation in Ontario Online

U of T already promotes online learning, observing new initiative closely

U of T contemplates participation in Ontario Online

U of T remains hesitant about joining the Centre of Excellence for Online Learning (Ontario Online). The new course hub was announced in January.

KAREN ZHOU/THE VARSITY

KAREN ZHOU/THE VARSITY

Ontario Online is a system planned by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities that will serve as a repository of online courses and a database that details to students which of their credits are transferable between institutions.

U of T already has structures that facilitate online learning, including Blackboard, a content management system, and is watching to see how Ontario Online unfolds before committing. “As this is a three-year project for the ministry that has just begun, we’re looking to see what happens,” said Sioban Nelson, U of T’s  vice-provost, academic programs, adding: “We are involved in online courses, we just have a concern about quality of education.”

In September 2012, U of T was also the first Canadian institution to affiliate with Coursera, a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) platform created by Stanford University. Unlike Ontario Online, Coursera is designed to accommodate unlimited enrolment worldwide.

Paul Gries, senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, faced the challenge of adapting lecture material into a video format.
“One minute of video required at least one hour of work as we had to figure out how to condense three hours of lecture material into a 15-minute video and still present the material in a precise and clear manner that made it easy for students to follow,” he said. Although 70,000 students enrolled at the start of the course, only 8,300 actually completed it.

Gries cited the time-consuming nature of an online course and personal circumstances as reasons why students did not finish the course. “The lower completion numbers don’t necessarily mean that there aren’t people watching the videos. If 10 per cent of those enrolled complete the online course, then the course is a success,” he added.

In addition to involvement with MOOCs, U of T has its own internal program, the Online Undergraduate Course Initiative (OUCI) for developing undergraduate courses online. This initiative pre-dates the announcement from the ministry by three years. The goal of this program is to develop 10 online courses each year at the initiative of willing faculty members who have the support of their department and the dean. The OUCI then funds the course plan, with $12,000 allocated to each redesigned course. Educational technology professionals, librarians, and the instructor are all involved in the course-planning process. The OUCI reports that 15 new undergraduate online courses have either come online in the past two years or will come online in the next few months.

Steve Joordens, professor of psychology at UTSC, is one U of T professor who uses online learning as a core component of the course. Joordens’ introductory psychology course has a web option, which allows students in the course to decide between attending lectures, watching them online, or both. In addition to this flexibility, the course includes a series of online tests, designed as an alternative to multiple-choice midterms.

Although Joordens said the program was largely successful, he has experienced issues with academic integrity. “I had the challenge of deterring people who cheat; I noticed that there was a group of students who did the tests sitting in the same room. They were getting marks of 90 or more on the online tests, but were failing the final, getting around a 30. That averages to about 60 per cent, so they passed the course, but didn’t learn anything,” Joordens recalled. To avoid this trend, Joordens ruled that in order to pass the course, students must also pass the final examination.

Monika Havelka, senior lecturer of geography at UTM, has taught a 100-level environmental studies course online for the past four years. “I’m really fond of the format because it provides an enhanced learning experience,” Havelka said. Like Joordens’s course, Havelka’s lectures are recorded and posted online.

Havelka believes that the format allows for more interaction between herself and her students, as well as between the students themselves; she interacts with more students online over web chats and discussion threads than in office hours. Havelka praised the format. “I really am a convert. I was skeptical at first, but then I had students who said to me, ‘I had to watch this three times before I got it,’ but the point is that they got it in the end. The opportunity to rewind and review material leads to a greater depth of understanding,” she said.

Although U of T takes pride in its provision of learning opportunities online, the current lack of participation in Ontario Online could affect course transfers. “There is [a] core of courses that are transferred automatically; others we do on a case-by-case basis,” said Nelson. She added: “We are very supportive of course transfers, and we’re watching to see how [the course transfer hub] unfolds.”

 

With files from Devika Desai

International tuition could rise another 50 per cent over next five years

Current international students would pay five per cent more, new students would pay 9.2 per cent in proposed budget

International tuition could rise another 50 per cent over next five years

Tuition fees for new incoming international students are set to increase by 9.2 per cent next year. Fees for existing international students are set to increase by 5 per cent. Scott Mabury, vice-president, university operations, unveiled the plan at a meeting of the Governing Council’s Business Board on March 3. On average, tuition fee increases are assumed to be three per cent for domestic students and 6.5 per cent for existing international students each year of the five-year budget cycle: 2014–2015 to 2018–2019.

At the meeting, Mabury characterized international student enrolment as a “14-year experiment,” adding that, “when we increase international tuition fees, applications go up, and the take-up rate goes up.” A recent provincial government plan established a target to increase the number of international students by 50 per cent — to a total of 57,000 students — by 2015. Compounded, international tuition fees have risen over 50 per cent over the last five years.

Domestic and international tuition fee schedules are regulated under Ontario’s Tuition Framework. Under the framework, domestic tuition fees are capped at three per cent per year for most programs and five per cent for graduate and professional programs. International tuition fee increases, however, are unregulated — individual post-secondary institutions can increase these fees as much as they like.

As per the university’s tuition fee policy, no student entering a program from 2012–2013 onwards will be subjected to a fee increase of more than 5.69 per cent per year for the normal length of the full-time program of study.

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) have both called on the provincial government to regulate international fee increases.

“There is a real double standard here,” said Cameron Wathey, who is running for re-election to the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) as vice-president, internal, with Team U of T Voice. “International students deserve the same rights as domestic students, not simply because we contribute to the tax base and the growth of the economy, not simply because many international students decide to stay in Canada after graduation and work within Canada, but simply because we all deserve access to affordable post-secondary education,” he added.

Wathey outlined the platform for U of T Voice, which includes lobbying the provincial government for the regulation of international student fees, pressuring the government for the removal of the recently introduced $750 international student fee, and advocating for international student seats on Governing Council. Under the University of Toronto Act, international students are currently unable to serve on Governing Council because they are not Canadian citizens.

“This discrepancy raises serious concerns to suggest that international students are being used to compensate for funding gaps in other underfunded sectors within the university,” said Anna Yin, who is running for election to the UTSU as vice-president, internal, with Team Unite. “As a team that believes in equal opportunity and a fair education for all, we believe we must address the university administration and raise concerns within the upcoming provincial elections to suggest regulations for international tuition to be based on the real cost of education,” she added.

Yin outlined the platform for Team Unite, which includes pushing university administration to create more needs-based scholarships for international students, lobbying the provincial government to ensure that universities provide more international student support services, and lobbying the provincial government to allow international students to enroll in OHIP without paying an additional premium.

Zakary Paget, special assistant, communications, for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, offered little information on provincial government funding for international students. “Our role is to ensure that the bar is set high for post-secondary education in Ontario through the implementation of a policy framework that protects our shared, earned global reputation for quality programs, student protection, and a positive student experience.” Paget did not offer any information on what that policy framework would include.

“I think we’re very transparent about the fees that international students are charged. They understand this before they decide to apply,” said Richard Levin, university registrar, adding: “We’re clear about any scholarships in the letter of offer, and we determine our international targets based on academic priorities. But we have to reflect the full cost in international fees.” While the federal and provincial governments provide per-student operating grants to post-secondary institutions, there are no per-student operating grants for international students.

“[W]e will only go as far as we feel is academically appropriate in terms of number of students,” said Sally Garner, executive directo of the planning and budget office. “The tuition has to be a reasonable rate when you compare it internationally to the quality institutions compared to U of T.”

Katerina Valle, a fourth-year anthropology student from Peru, contended that the fee increases are unexpected. “Most of us find out about the yearly increase when we are already enrolled. When I applied to U of T, I thought I would be paying [$20,000] every year. Next year, my tuition is going to be [$30,000]. People have budgets — if U of T can’t help from raising tuition, they should at least be clear about it,” she says.

Other international students, like Shah Taha, a second-year international relations and contemporary Asian studies student from Hong Kong, argued that the cost of international undergraduate tuition does not reflect the level of services international students receive: “What is perhaps most important is to give international students their money’s worth. Facilities provided at U of T are below par for the amount charged.”

Levin said that the cost of international undergraduate tuition is not a reflection of additional services for international students: “We set fees to try and recover the full cost of the educational experience. There are certainly services for international students — the Centre for International Experience, various divisions have particular supports in place, programs run specifically for international students — we work hard to try and support them. But the fee is really meant to reflect the cost of education.”

Some international students also expressed concern over the amount of financial aid that international undergraduate students receive. In 2012–2013, $164 million in student aid was given out to undergraduate and graduate students. Just $5 million in aid — merit-based and emergency — was provided to international students.

According to the university’s Policy on Student Financial Support, “No student offered admission to a program at the University of Toronto should be unable to enter or complete the program due to lack of financial means.” However, the policy does not fully apply to international students: “International students must demonstrate that they have sufficient resources to meet their financial needs in order to qualify for a student visa. They are not eligible for the university’s guarantee offered to domestic students.”

Valle expressed concern over this: “There are a lot of programs, scholarships, opportunities that are restricted to Canadians and residents only …  [International students] pay more and we are excluded,” she said, adding: “International students pick Canada because it is cheaper.”

Michael Kozakov, a third-year computer science student from Israel, agreed: “Unlike most top universities in the United States, U of T does not offer financial aid packages, and the merit-based scholarships cover at most 4 per cent of tuition fees. Given the amount of emphasis U of T puts on the diversity of the student body, I find these numbers very underwhelming.”

“I do not believe that the government should subsidize all international students (some students already receive government support from their home countries, others have quite high social economic status backgrounds), but I believe that there is a responsibility to provide support for top students with high levels of need,” said Dr. Glen Jones, Ontario research chair in post-secondary education policy and measurement and professor of higher education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). However, Jones also pointed out that financial support for U of T graduate students is among the highest in the country.

Levin claimed that the low level of financial aid for international undergraduate students arises from the university’s decision to prioritize domestic students. “The only real source of support, if we were to provide additional support for international students, would be tuition and grant revenue from domestic students,” he said.

“Some governments have found the introduction of [international] scholarships politically difficult,” Jones added. “The Ontario government announced new scholarships for international students several years ago and received a great deal of criticism from opposition and some student organizations based on the notion that funds should be devoted to assisting Ontario students rather than international students.”

The university projects a balanced budget for 2014–2015, with $2 billion in revenues matched by $2 billion in expenses.

Bill regulating unpaid internships passes first reading at Queen’s Park

NDP bill introduces greater regulation, tracking of unpaid internships

Bill regulating unpaid internships passes first reading at Queen’s Park

Earlier this week, Jonah Schein, MPP for Davenport and NDP GTA Issues Critic, introduced legislation that would provide unpaid interns with a range of greater legal protection. The proposed legislation would extend the provisions of the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to interns, giving them the same legal rights regarding working hours and conditions enjoyed by paid workers.

The proposed legislation would also mandate a data collection system to determine the pervasiveness of unpaid internships, create a protocol for the Ministry of Labour to deal with workplace complaints, and legislate that a poster detailing workers’ rights under the ESA be displayed in places of work. The bill had its first reading on Tuesday and was carried. It has not yet moved to committee, which is required before a second reading.

“Internships can offer valuable training opportunities for those entering the workplace, but we need to ensure that young people are getting the experiences they deserve,” Schein said, adding: “My bill will give unpaid interns greater protections under the law, and clarify the conditions of a legal internship for employees and employers alike.”

In Ontario, unpaid internships are nominally overseen by the Ministry of Labour. The ministry specifically exempts individuals who perform work under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university from protection under the ESA. According to a Ministry of Labour statement: “This exception exists to encourage employers to provide students enrolled in a college or university program with practical training to complement their classroom learning.”

In a recent statement, Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, said that he was appreciative of the NDP’s efforts. However, he pointed out that his ministry recently provided $3 million for the application of the ESA and will be executing an “enforcement blitz” this summer.

“The government knows that investing in our young people means making sure they are treated fairly on the job and we have strong rules enforcing that. Our government has been active on this file to increase awareness, proactive inspections and protections for young workers for some time,” Naqvi added.

Joshua Mandryk, a University of Toronto law student and co-chair of Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams, an organization that has been demanding government action against unpaid internships, praised Schein’s bill, but added that it does not bring change quickly enough. “Unfortunately, young workers don’t have time to wait for this bill to be passed, so we want to see these measures incorporated in the 2014 Ontario budget,” he said.

Student groups concerned over federal budget

UTSU, CFS, OUSA believe budget prioritizes older people over youth

Canada’s 2014 federal budget prioritizes older Canadians over young people, say a number of student groups. Announced on February 11, the budget features spending of around $45,000 for each person over age 65, compared to around $12,000 for each person under age 45. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) have expressed concerns over the budget.

Dr. Paul Kershaw, a professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Population and Public Health and founder of Generation Squeeze, a campaign aimed at increasing government spending on Canadians under age 45, argued that today’s young Canadians are affected by lower wages, higher costs of living, and worse environmental conditions than ever before. However, Kershaw noted, federal government policy continues to focus on the aging population.

Kershaw pointed to an approximately $12 billion annual increase in spending on Old Age Security and medical care for people over 65 since the last federal election, compared to a $2.2 billion annual increase in spending on people under 45 over the same time period. He believes that increasing government spending on people under age 45 from $12,000 to $13,000 would allow the federal government to make substantial policy changes to support young people, including more affordable child care, shorter work weeks, and lower student debt levels.

“Nobody wants government budgets to protect spending on seniors at the expense of investing in their kids and grandchildren,” Kershaw argued. “Unfortunately, governments will continue this trade-off until we build a powerful organization that speaks up for younger Canada.” Kershaw emphasized that the policy changes could be made while safeguarding medical care and retirement income for the aging population.

Jessica McCormick, national chairperson of the CFS, also asserted that the federal budget fails to meaningfully address issues facing youth. McCormick’s concerns centre on youth unemployment and student debt. In the past, the CFS has called on the federal government to address student debt by expanding the Canada Student Grants Program. The program provides non-repayable financial assistance to students based on financial need.

McCormick also emphasized the importance of intergenerational equity, arguing that gains for older generations should not come at the expense of young people. “In the past, students have supported campaigns for retirement security, and we have received support from retirees on our campaigns for accessible post-secondary education,” McCormick noted. “It’s unfortunate that the federal government has ignored the needs of youth in the budget,” she added.

UTSU president Munib Sajjad said that the students’ union stands behind the CFS. “The federal budget has failed to address the growing student debt crisis and the lack of accountability over post-secondary education funding that the federal government continually ignores,” Sajjad said, adding: “To not address student and youth unemployment is short-sighted and destructive to our society’s future.”

Like McCormick, Sajjad characterized federal government policies on student debt and youth unemployment as inadequate, noting that national student debt exceeds $15 billion and youth unemployment for workers aged 20–29 stands at 400,000. While Sajjad rejected the idea that young people and elderly people should have to compete for government resources, he emphasized that the government seems unwilling to invest in youth.

Stéphanie Rubec, manager of media relations with the Department of Finance, brushed off concerns that the budget failed to address young people. “While Canada has one of the highest youth employment rates among its Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) peers, ranking ahead of countries such as Germany, the United States, Sweden and Spain, more can be done to ensure young Canadians are receiving the training they need to realize their full potential,” she said.

Rubec pointed to a number of new and existing programs that support training and employment for young people. For example, the budget introduced the Canada Apprentice Loan, a program that expands the Canada Student Loans Program to provide apprentices registered in certain skilled trades with access to over $100 million in interest-free loans annually.

The budget also included $40 million for up to 3,000 full-time internships for post-secondary graduates in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the skilled trades over the next two years. McCormick claimed that this program is inadequate, as it only helps about one per cent of currently unemployed youth between the ages of 20 and 29.

Rubec also pointed to over $10 billion in existing government support for post-secondary education through loans, grants, and other investments. “Canada places at the top of the rankings of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in terms of post-secondary educational attainment, thanks in part to these federal supports for students,” said Rubec.

McCormick claimed that this government support fails to address the underlying issues of high tuition fees and student debt. “Financing post-secondary education through student debt is an unfair model that results in low- and middle-income students paying more for their education than students who can cover the costs up front,” she noted, adding: “these measures do nothing to address the significant barriers many students face in accessing higher education.”

Liberals prep high-stakes budget amidst calls for more funding

CFS-O, U of T, and OUSA offer reform proposals for post-secondary education

Liberals prep high-stakes budget amidst calls for more funding

Members of the post-secondary education community in Ontario are calling on the provincial government to make a number of important changes to post-secondary education in the upcoming budget. The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O), the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), and U of T are all making demands Ontario’s pre-budget consultations, which run until February 28. The consultations are an opportunity for individuals and organizations in Ontario to submit their priorities in advance of the upcoming provincial budget.

The demands include increased funding for post-secondary education, improved post-graduate employment outcomes for undergraduates, and fair graduate expansion allocations. The current Liberal government — which currently has a minority in the legislature — could fall on the budget, which will likely include policies aimed at appealing to voters ahead of an election.

Almost all of the demands boil down to an underfunded post-secondary education sector. According to Cheryl Regehr, U of T’s provost, Ontario currently has the lowest per-student funding in Canada. Regehr would like to see this funding increased in the upcoming provincial budget.

“We understand that there are huge constraints that the province is under,” Regehr noted, referencing the province’s $11 billion deficit. “But at the same time, we are very concerned about meeting the needs of our growing numbers of students.”

“Ontario’s research universities make a disproportionate contribution to the provincial economy,” she continued, “we need to look for government support to help us offer the kind of great education that we do.”

U of T is also calling for graduate expansion allocation that recognizes the different roles of universities in Ontario. A 2009 provincial government plan called for 6,000 new graduate student spaces in Ontario by 2016, but the report did not specify how the spaces would be allocated among universities.

Michelle Johnston, a legislative assistant/issues manager with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU), brushed off concerns over post-secondary underfunding. “Despite challenging economic times, the government is continuing to build on its investments in the post-secondary sector to ensure that students, colleges, and universities have the resources they need,” she said.

However, Johnston declined to comment on specific elements of the upcoming budget. “We are unable to comment on what decisions the government will make in the future,” she noted.

According to Johnston, the provincial government’s operating grant to universities increased by $1.58 billion — or 83 per cent — from 2002–2003 to 2012–2013. Specifically, per-student funding for universities increased from $6,719 in 2002–2003 to $8,605 by the end of 2012–2013 — an increase of 28 per cent.

“This confirms the government’s commitment to maintaining and enhancing the quality of education while maximizing the value from each taxpayer dollar,” Johnston noted.

Alastair Woods, chairperson of the CFS-O, feels that the level of provincial funding for post-secondary education is still too low. “With increased funding, we can reduce financial barriers for students while also focusing on increasing the quality of education we receive,” he said.

The CFS-O is also calling for a 30 per cent tuition fee reduction over three years, by repurposing money set aside for the Ontario Tuition Grant and education tax credits. Under the Ontario Tuition Grant, full-time post-secondary students may be eligible for 30 per cent off tuition if they are approved for OSAP, among a number of other conditions. The CFS-O opposes the Ontario Tuition Grant, noting that less than a third of students have accessed it.

Under the CFS-O’s proposed tuition fee reduction, the first year is cost-neutral, and will see a 17 per cent tuition fee reduction after re-allocating funds dedicated to the Ontario Tuition Grant and provincial education tax credits. The second and third years will cost $550 million, for a further 6.5 per cent tuition fee reduction per year.

The CFS-O has successfully influenced provincial education policy in the past — most recently, in the provincial government’s changes to flat fees. However, the provincial government has consistently pushed back against tuition fee reductions. In 2013, Brad Duguid, TCU minister, released a tuition fee policy framework that allows Ontario universities to increase tuition fees by three per cent per year for the next four years — a reduction from previous five per cent increases. Since 2006, tuition fees have increased by as much as 71 per cent in Ontario, according to the CFS-O.

Like the CFS-O, the OUSA is calling on the provincial government to reallocate tuition and education tax credit funding towards improvements to existing financial assistance programs. According to Chris Fernlund, vice-president of university affairs with OUSA, only one in three students earn enough money to make use of the government’s education tax credits while pursuing their degree.

Johnston affirmed the provincial government’s commitment to equitable access to post-secondary education. However, she declined comment on upcoming funding initiatives from the provincial government.

“Helping Ontario students with their costs is part of the government’s plan to keep post-secondary education within the reach of all families, while building the best-educated workforce in the world,” Johnston noted. More than 370,000 students — half of all full-time post-secondary students in Ontario — received student financial aid during the 2012-2013 academic year.

Both the OUSA and CFS-O are also calling for changes in the labour market. The CFS-O wants the province to collect statistics on unpaid internships and end unpaid work terms in the public sector, while the OUSA wants the province to assist in increasing paid co-operative education opportunities for undergraduates.

“OUSA is asking the province to provide funding that will encourage the expansion of paid co-op opportunities in non-traditional programs in the arts and humanities, social sciences, and sciences,” Fernlund said. Fernlund noted that students who participate in co-operative programs had higher post-graduation employment outcomes than other students, and make $2-3 more per hour upon graduation.

Johnston addressed student concerns over unpaid internships. “The fact that a young employee is called an ‘intern’ by someone they work for does not mean that he or she is not an employee for purposes of the Employment Standards Act,” she noted. “The Ministry of Labour is always reaching out to employees and employers to make sure that they are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the Employment Standards Act.”

U of T is also calling on the provincial government to expand funding for post-secondary entrepreneurship and experiential learning opportunities. U of T currently has a number of entrepreneurship opportunities such as campus-run accelerators, and experiential learning opportunities, such as co-operative opportunities and service learning.

Johnston pointed to the government’s Youth Jobs Strategy — a program designed to help youth find jobs or start their own businesses — as evidence of its commitment to providing employment opportunities for youth. The strategy included four funds aimed at generating employment opportunities for youth. One fund, the Ontario Youth Entrepreneurship Fund, provided $45 million to connect young people with mentorship and seed capital to start their own businesses.

Federal government aims to double number of international students

Concerns over planning, lack of funds, displacement of domestic students

On January 15, the federal government announced a new international education plan which aims to double the number of international students studying in Canadian institutions by 2022. Two hundred and sixty-five thousand international students were attending Canadian universities in 2012, so the government’s goal is to raise this number to 450,000 in 10 years. This has raised concerns over the ability of post-secondary institutions to accommodate the growing body of students.

Many schools located in urban centers such as Ryerson University and the University of Toronto already have to deal with a large pool of applicants for a very limited number of spots. Ryerson claims to receive some 70,000 applications for a total of 6,500 first year spots. The university’s president, Sheldon Levy, says that although he welcomes the prospect of incorporating a larger domestic and international student body, he believes that more serious planning and spending is needed in order to guarantee the plan’s success.

A major concern that remains is the possible displacement of domestic students in order to accommodate the federal government’s ambitious plan. Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, assured that he will not allow for such a displacement to occur. However, doubts remain about the plan’s practicality. According to Stephen Toope, outgoing president of the University of British Columbia (UBC), the accommodation of these new students and the creation of an adequate support system for them will need a lot more planning and government spending than is currently outlined.

Despite this initial skepticism, many university leaders understand the benefits a more diverse student population would bring both to the economy and to university funding. With recent difficulty in obtaining grants from the government, international students and their higher tuition fees will encourage significant investments in Canadian post-secondary institutions. Furthermore, it is expected that international students will bring an extra $8 billion in spending every year to the Canadian economy. The government also plans to develop this plan along with a greater variety of opportunities for domestic students to study abroad.

The chair of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFS-O), Alastair Woods, also believes that although the increase of international students will bring benefits, there are tangible drawbacks facing international students. Looking ahead, Woods expressed some concerns for these students.  “International students are an integral part of academic and campus life at institutions across the province and across Canada. They bring valuable contributions to the classroom and extracurricular activities while reflecting a global diversity on campus. Beyond the classroom, most international students remain in Canada upon graduation to make a life for themselves here, further contributing to economic, political, and social growth. I am, however, concerned that institutions will use this government announcement to further take advantage of international students through unregulated tuition fees.”

With files from The Globe and Mail

Ontario funding formula hurts students

Province should consider outcome-based funding

The University of Toronto estimates that it will receive approximately $665 million in direct provincial funding this financial year, which constitutes 34 per cent of its $1.9 billion operating budget. After tuition fees, this is the university’s largest source of funding. The question of provincial funding lies at the bottom of almost any debate you can have about the university.

While the total amount of money that the province spends on post-secondary education is important, the funding formula, or the method by which the government decides how much money each institution is allotted, profoundly affects the post-secondary education (PSE) system. As the government struggles to balance the provincial budget, it is difficult to imagine that Ontario will have more money to spend on universities in the near future. Pushing the government to make accessible and well-funded post-secondary education a priority is certainly important, but convincing it to distribute its current funding more effectively is a more practical goal.

The government already uses financial incentives to pressure universities. The vast majority of provincial funding is currently distributed according to enrollment: the more students you have, the more money you get. The advantages of this system are its simplicity, and that it encourages universities to educate more students.

However, closer investigation reveals a perverse incentive, a situation where the formula encourages undesirable behaviour. In order to secure more funding from the province, the university is encouraged to admit more students, but has little funding incentive to support its students, or to ensure they succeed.

The impact of the funding model on U of T is obvious from the way that the university has grown over the past few decades. U of T has increased its undergraduate enrollment far beyond the level of its global competitors in order to secure public funding to support its world-class research. A vast increase in undergraduate enrollment allows more people access to the university, but this is not necessarily a good thing. Many students who go to U of T are running up thousands of dollars of debt to earn a degree that is no longer a guaranteed path towards employment. Systemically, our universities have an incentive to admit students, but no incentive to give them value for their money.

Reassuringly, an arms-length government advisory organization, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, has produced two reports recommending that Ontario explore a differentiated funding model. This would see universities identify areas of specialty — which, for U of T, would almost certainly be research — and have part of their funding assessed based on their success in those areas.

This is encouraging, but the government should also consider a model that was recently implemented in Tennessee’s public PSE system, outcome-based funding. In this system, the government or institution establishes certain criteria for success, and funding is assessed according to performance in those areas. Criteria can include a variety of factors, such as graduation rates, graduate success in employment or further education, and student satisfaction.

Paying universities for being successful is not only a common-sense solution, but is inherently more nuanced than enrollment-based funding, allowing the government to designate more than one metric for assessing funding levels.

This also means that outcome-based funding is easily compatible with differentiation, given that different universities can be assessed using different criteria, depending on their institutional purposes.

Using multiple criteria also allows the government to avoid the most obvious perverse incentives of funding based only on graduation rates. Funding based solely on graduation rates would encourage universities to exclusively admit students who are already very likely to succeed, and to devalue the degrees they offer to make it easier to graduate. It’s essential that outcomes be measured in a more nuanced way, and that steps are taken to encourage universities to admit less privileged applicants.

It is not easy to measure many of these criteria, and the devil will be in the details of whatever new formula the province develops. However, positive changes to the immense financial incentives that the government sets for universities will go a long way towards fixing what is broken in our post-secondary education system.

The fundamental strength of a properly set up outcome-based system is that it encourages universities to admit only as many students as will truly benefit from the education they offer. This is not the case under our current enrollment-based system, where universities benefit from admitting as many students as they can possibly accommodate, even if many students are not successful or do not benefit in the long term from the time and money they spend here.