Ontario universities and colleges will have to slash domestic tuition by 10 per cent for the 2019–2020 academic year and freeze it for two years, according to an announcement made Thursday by Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton.
Fullerton also made the surprise announcement that the government will be eliminating the non-needs-based portion of the Ontario Student Grant for recipients of the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
The provincial government will also begin charging interest on student loans immediately after students complete full-time studies. Previously, OSAP included a six-month grace period after full-time studies in which loans were interest-free. This will “reduce complexity for students,” according to the release.
When asked how these cuts to OSAP will help students, Fullerton repeated that all Ontario students will still be eligible to apply for the program, but that the government will be focusing on helping lower-income students.
“Tuition was never free,” she added.
LIVE: Minister Merrilee Fullerton makes an announcement.
— Merrilee Fullerton, MPP (@DrFullertonMPP) January 17, 2019
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.”
Finally, the provincial government has also mandated 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 club fees. 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 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 they had but did not provide specifics regarding which groups.
“We’re putting students first,” she added.
Official Opposition Critic for Colleges and Universities MPP Chris Glover told The Varsity that he had consulted with the Canadian Federation of Students and other student unions and groups immediately 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
The opt-out option will not apply to campus-wide services that are related to health and safety.
“Students are adults and we are treating them as such by giving them the freedom to clearly see where their fees are 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.”
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.
“Student fees no longer mandatory” is a nice way of saying “Student unions no longer exist”
— Daman Singh (@sbdaman) January 17, 2019
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.
I wonder what this means for campus journalism… often the only entity that actively keeps an eye on the administration. Mainstream media doesn't have the resources to provide local coverage to every post-secondary institution. https://t.co/4hhTim9Xo6
— Robyn Doolittle (@robyndoolittle) January 17, 2019
Based on the 2017 intake numbers, tuition fees, and operating expense budget, The Varsity estimates that the proposed 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition would cost the university more than $62.4 million in income from undergraduates alone. This number makes up 4.14 per cent of all student fee revenue the university received in 2017–2018.
According to The Varsity’s estimates, the cut would be equivalent to 10 per cent of U of T’s 2019–2020 projected provincial grants for general operations. This is about $10 million more than all OSAP loans awarded to first-year Arts & Science students in 2017.
Currently, the average 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.
Students entering Rotman Commerce or deregulated programs, including computer science, paid more than $12,500 this academic year, and would therefore see a minimum saving of $1,250. Engineering students can expect an over $1,500 reduction from their over $15,000 annual tuition.
The Varsity has reached out to the UTSU and U of T Media Relations for comment.
This is a developing story. More to come.
— With files from Kevin Lu and Julie Shi