How U of T could adjust to provincial tuition cuts

Ford government’s 10 per cent domestic tuition slash could prompt university to borrow from reserves, make cuts

How U of T could adjust to provincial tuition cuts

U of T is set to decrease its domestic tuition fees in 2019–2020 by 10 per cent, courtesy of the provincial government’s mandatory reductions, announced January 17. Tuition will then remain frozen for the 2020–2021 years. According to the Toronto Star, the plan is expected to eliminate $360 million from Ontario universities’ operating budgets.

The province’s previous tuition framework, effective since 2013, enforced an overall annual three per cent cap on undergraduate Arts & Science domestic tuition fee increases at U of T. Between the 2013–2015 and 2018–2019 academic years, U of T has increased gross domestic tuition by an average of 2.96 per cent year-on-year.

Based on this trend, U of T would likely have set tuition for domestic undergraduate Arts & Science students in 2019–2020 at around $6,980. Instead, tuition will likely be around $6,100.

U of T has increased its gross international tuition by an average of 6.1 per cent year-on-year between the 2014–2015 and 2018–2019 academic years. Between 2014–2015 and 2017–2018, the university has seen an average year-on-year domestic student intake decrease of 0.36 per cent while international student intake has increased by an average of 9.75 per cent.

U of T signed the Strategic Mandate Agreement with the previous Liberal provincial government in 2018, which will see it decrease domestic undergraduate seats by 1,800 students through 2020. The agreement means that U of T is unlikely to increase its domestic undergraduate intake, so any increases in recruitment would focus on domestic graduate and international student intake.

The 2008 economic recession is a useful comparison in determining how U of T could react to losses from the provincial government’s new policies. During the 2008–2009 academic year, the university’s endowment lost approximately 30 per cent of its value, with the university’s operating budget subsequently losing approximately $46 million. During that period, there were no endowment payouts.

In response to financial troubles, the university prioritized its funding to shared service areas and used carryforward and contingency funds to partially finance these areas in order to minimize use of new revenue for non-academic divisions.

At the latest Planning and Budget Committee meeting on January 10, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr discussed some of the steps U of T took during this period, saying that “there was a combination of cuts, borrowing from reserves, and other kinds of mechanisms.” Regehr also noted the creation of a collective central reserves system from which divisions that did not have sufficient reserves could borrow to fund operating costs.

The university has yet to discuss what steps it will take in light of impending losses due to the government’s announcements, but similar financial management as in 2008 seems to be a likely option to limit losses to the operating budget.

Although the latest provisions will hinder the university’s operating budget, its external investments through the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation are unlikely to face losses to the same extent as those in 2008.

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

Ontario government will cut university, college tuition by 10 per cent

Formal announcement, more details to come Thursday, international students not included

Ontario government will cut university, college tuition by 10 per cent

Beginning in the next academic year, students in postsecondary institutions across the province may be paying less in tuition fees.

According to a report from The Canadian Press, Premier Doug Ford’s provincial government will announce this Thursday that tuition fees for domestic students in Ontario will be slashed by 10 per cent.

This means that the average arts and science student in university would be able to save approximately $660, while a regular college student would save $340, according to the government.

The Progressive Conservatives will introduce a new tuition framework that will make the cuts effective by the 2019–2020 academic year. Tuition would then be frozen the following year.

International students are not covered by the plan.

“Now is the time to act”: Faculty of Law students sign open letter against rising tuition

Petition garners 400 signatures from students, alumni

“Now is the time to act”: Faculty of Law students sign open letter against rising tuition

India Annamanthadoo came to the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law in the hopes of pursuing a career in public interest law, and working in areas such as international human rights law and legal aid work.

Since arriving, however, Annamanthadoo has become increasingly worried about being able to go into those fields given concerns over the high cost of tuition and increasing student debt. She also noticed that many of her friends in the faculty forgo those fields, which tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale, in favour of careers in the higher paying field of corporate law.

“Many of my peers and I came to U of T Law because we were enticed by the prospect of working in these areas,” she wrote. “But what I’ve come to realize is that those options are only viable if you don’t have debt from your undergrad and your parents are paying for your law degree.”

She added, “The situation is only getting worse, with tuition set to pass $40,000 next year. It was clear to me that now is the time to act.”

This academic year, Annamanthadoo and 14 other students and alumni helped launch Barriers to Excellence, an initiative to persuade the faculty to “implement a moratorium on tuition increases past $40,000 per year” until certain conditions outlined in an open letter addressed to Dean Edward Iacobucci are met.

These demands include a comprehensive financial review of the faculty with publicly accessible results. Based on the review, Barriers to Excellence demands that the faculty commit to specific initiatives to control costs and protect the allocation of financial aid, such as guaranteeing assistance to low-income applicants upon admission offers and a long-term plan for affordable tuition.

The name is modelled after the faculty’s Campaign for Excellence without Barriers, a project launched this year aiming to raise $20 million for financial aid.

To date, the open letter has over 400 signatures from current students, alumni since the class of 1971, and several organizations, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the Law Students’ Society of Ontario.

“Obviously this is not a campaign for current students,” wrote Annamanthadoo. “We’re already here, paying six [figures] for a law degree. This is a campaign for future students.”

In a statement to The Varsity, the faculty noted that Iacobucci has had two in-depth discussions of the budget, tuition, and financial aid at Faculty Council, the governing body of the Faculty of Law.

The council is composed of the dean, full-time faculty members, the Chief Law Librarian, the Assistant Dean of the Juris Doctor Program, elected student representatives from each year of the program, and two graduate students.

The statement continued that, subject to U of T approval, Iacobucci will aim for a four per cent increase in tuition next year, rather than five per cent, the maximum allowable amount.

In response, Alexandra H. Robertson, a third-year law student also involved with the campaign, wrote that the move was an “important first step.”

“It will be the first time since 2006 that the faculty has not increased tuition by the maximum allowable amount,” she wrote. “Students have been advocating on this issue since the early 2000s and feel like their efforts have been in vain. We believe this development means that the Faculty is hearing student and alumni concerns about tuition, financial aid, and law school accessibility.”

Robertson added, “Obviously our goal is for the demands in our letter to be met by the Faculty, which hasn’t happened yet, but we’re heartened that the Faculty is clearly listening to what we’re saying.”

International PhDs to pay tuition equivalent to domestic students

Graduate students respond to changes in academic rates

International PhDs to pay tuition equivalent to domestic students

Come September, domestic and international PhD students at U of T will pay equivalent tuition. This breaks from the status quo of international students paying much higher rates than domestic students.

At present, most international fees are $21,560 per year, in comparison to the domestic rate of $6,960 for a majority of programs.

Rose Liu, an international student and Masters of Pharmacology student, said she believes that the move was reasonable. “It doesn’t make sense for them to pay a whole lot extra.”

The announcement came on January 16. In a statement posted on U of T News, Joshua Barker, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Vice-Provost of Graduate Research and Education, said that the university “[strives] to remove any barriers, financial or otherwise, that graduate students might face as they look to attend our university.”

Barker later told The Varsity that the move was to make higher education more accessible to a larger pool of students. “We know that international students will always be looking carefully at the fees that they will be paying,” he said. “Reducing it to domestic level will improve our capacity to recruit the best of the best.”

The plan technically won’t kick in until after a student’s fourth year of study in their doctoral program. Currently, both international and domestic students are provided a funding package, comprised of grants and work opportunities, that does not require them to pay fees out of pocket for the first four years. Starting in their fifth year and any other time after that, students will have to pay fees.

“[Students will be affected] when they finish the funded portion of their degree, and we’re going to absorb the costs of that through our normal budget process,” said Barker with regard to the specific details of how the university will offset this financial change.

The announcement comes two weeks after the deadline for doctoral programs passed, and some international students are saying that the expensive fees factored into their decisions to not apply.

“We’re only able to make the announcement when the decision has been reached within the university, and we have agreement from the various faculties within the university,” said Barker.

Liu also noted how this might promote meritocracy. “If supervisors know that they don’t have to pay for international PhD students, they could probably decide to take a certain international student instead of compromising for domestic students.”

The tuition cut will not affect professional programs. The Doctor of Juridical Science, Doctor of Education, and Doctor of Music Arts will keep current international tuition rates due to their non-research orientation. According to Barker, there are no plans at present to reduce those fees. There are also no plans to equalize the tuition rates of domestic and international students at the undergraduate or master’s level.

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) expressed support for the announcement. Alexandra Sebben, Communications and Promotions Coordinator for the UTGSU, said that the “Executive Committee supports the reduction of tuition fees for all students, especially international students who are currently burdened by very high tuition costs.”

The UTGSU will also be meeting with Barker before the end of the month to discuss this issue in more detail.

The decision coincides with the university’s negotiations with CUPE Local 3902, Unit 1, a labour union that represents, in part, teaching assistants — many of whom are doctoral students.

Barker said that bargaining negotiations did not affect the tuition cut decision. “The desire to internationalize our graduate student body is something that we’ve been working on for some time now… It is a university priority that was articulated by the President a couple of years ago.”

CUPE 3902, Unit 1 responded positively to the news. Aleks Ivovic, Chief Spokesperson for the unit’s bargaining team, said that “support for international students is and always has been an important priority for us.”

“In terms of its effect on our international members,” said Ivovic, “we expect it will make a meaningful difference to PhD students who are in programs without funding.”

Editor’s note (January 22): This article has been updated to remove a quote from a student incorrectly suggesting that lowering tuition for international PhD students would allow for more research funding. 

Resisting Education event reflects on diverse barriers in postsecondary institutions

Panel discusses tuition fees, Indigeneity, racism, part-time students

Resisting Education event reflects on diverse barriers in postsecondary institutions

Resisting Education: Stories of Defiance and Perseverance — an event held by the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS) — took place in UTSG’s Claude T. Bissell Building on November 30 to discuss issues faced by students in postsecondary institutions across Ontario.

The event featured a panel of guests that included Nour Alideeb, former University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) President and current Chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario (CFS-O); Francis Pineda, President of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR); Michelle Mabira, 2016–2017 President of U of T’s African Students’ Association; and Phyllis McKenna, Vice-President Equity and Campaigns of CESAR. Moderating the event was Mala Kashyap, President of APUS.

A range of issues concerning postsecondary students were raised by the panelists. Alideeb started the discussion by saying that access to postsecondary education is a “right, not privilege.” Citing the funding structure for public postsecondary institutions, particularly U of T, Alideeb said the university has become a “publicly assisted institution” instead of “publicly funded,” with some of the highest tuition costs in Canada as well as steep costs for international students.

“Is our degree that great just because we slap on ‘U of T’?” asked Alideeb. She also pointed out solutions from her work at the CFS-O, in particular her lobbying for the Ontario Student Grant, as a starting point for reducing student fees and eliminating provincial interest on student loans.

McKenna focused on Indigeneity and the issues Indigenous students face when it comes to access to education. As an Indigenous woman, McKenna criticized the low graduation rates for Indigenous students in postsecondary institutions, as well as limitations on funding for bursaries and grants due to inadequate government funding.

Mabira relayed a perception of apathy on the part of the university administration toward marginalized students. Describing the process of reporting racism to university administrators as a “lottery,” Mabira attributed deep-rooted racism within the university to a “culture of persecuting people who can challenge the way the system is built and run.” She alluded to recent reports of anti-Black racism on campus as the product of a culture of racism and ignorance.

A part-time student at Ryerson University, Pineda discussed the importance of improving access to postsecondary education, as well as keeping in mind the struggles that part-time students face at these institutions. Accessing bursaries and grants is difficult for part-time students, especially those who may incur debt over an extended period during school, said Pineda. He described in detail his own experiences as a part-time student dealing with debt and the long period of time it took for him to earn his degree.

In response to a question about solutions to the particular issues raised by the panel, McKenna conveyed a hope for diversifying approaches to education and changes to “the idea that Western worldviews are not the epitome of education.”

Alideeb, speaking from her experience with the UTMSU, said that discussion and trust are the basis for change. “If we don’t have the mechanisms to talk to each other about the things that we have problems with, we cannot find solutions to them and move forward.”

When asked about the practicality of solving issues that were raised by her fellow panelists, Alideeb responded with optimism about future conversations, specifically mentioning her past success with the ‘Fight the Fees’ campaign and the Ontario Student Grant. She emphasized the importance of the University of Toronto Students’ Union collaborating with student groups to work on tackling issues. “We need to be working with people to understand the issues — that way we can tackle them.”

A budgetary balancing act

Ontario makes strides toward accessible post-secondary education, but glaring omissions call its long-term efficacy into question

A budgetary balancing act

ON February 25, the 2016 Ontario budget was released; one of its priorities focused on satiating the insistent requests from student groups -— free tuition for students from low-income backgrounds. But when the government offers you a free lunch, it pays to be skeptical.

While this budget takes steps toward more equitable financing for post-secondary education in Ontario, our province still has a long way to go before university education is equally accessible.

Not free for everyone

The budget provides most college and university students whose family income is less than $50,000 a year with enough grant funding to cover their entire tuition. The government stipulates that no student will receive less funding under the new plan than they would have received from the pre-existing 30% Off Tuition Grant.

This commitment certainly signals progress; however, it is not free, and it does not provide enough funding to cover degrees with higher-than-average costs.

The government estimates average undergraduate university tuition costs $6,160, while Statistics Canada averages it at around $7,868. As a result, there is a $1,700 shortfall.

This is because the government calculated average cost of tuition based solely on arts and science degrees, which doesn’t fully account for more expensive degrees, such as those in commerce, engineering, or computer science. This appears to be poor planning on the part of the government, as careers that stem from some of the more technical degrees flow into some of the least saturated job sectors in Ontario.

The plan will come at “roughly no cost” to the government, meaning that the funds used to offer finance tuition represent no increase to public funding invested in higher education but merely a redistribution of existing resources.

Streamlined funding

The Ontario Student Grant (OSG) will consolidate all other grant programs currently operating under Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), while tuition and education tax credits will be discontinued and reallocated to pay for the OSG. This is predicated on the assumption that “[g]rants are more effective than tax credits at targeting financial support to students with the greatest needs and providing support upfront,” which seems to reign true.

A deeper look into the student assistance system, however, reveals troubling possibilities for some students that are not addressed within the new structure. Co-op students and students who work are likely going to pay tax on income that was not previously taxable. While this will not restrict all students that fall into this category, it is worth noting that some students with higher incomes seek them out because they do not qualify for other forms of government support.

Financial need will continue to be largely based on family income under the new system. While we can be fairly confident that students coming from low-income families are in need of assistance, it is less clear that all students from high income families do not need assistance.

To the government’s credit, some attempt has been made in the budget to rectify this problem. Parental and spousal income will be less of a determining factor when assessing students’ financial need than it has in the past. Grants will also be available to mature students as eligibility will no longer be tied to the number of years a student has been out of high school.

For some students who, despite these provisions, rely on income other than government grants and loans to fund their education, this budget is not expected to deliver much relief. Students should view this as an omission on the part of the government and should lament the fact that students whose need is not easily quantifiable are likely to be left behind.

Student debt goes unaddressed

There is no mention in the budget of debt forgiveness, something that student groups such as the Canadian Federation of Students and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance have been calling for for a long time. Student debt in Canada is high; grads are routinely saddled with more than $20,000 to pay back as they enter the workforce. There is a six-month grace period after graduation during which students do not have to make payments, a provision that will be carried over in this budget.

It is worth noting that, while the government must start somewhere to increase the accessibility of post-secondary education, this plan creates a sizeable disparity in terms of incurred debt between low-income students entering post-secondary education in 2017 and those graduating in the same year. The class starting university in 2017 will be better supported than it otherwise would have been, but nothing has been done to address the mass of university graduates who are currently under-employed and struggling to pay off debt.

Tuition increases

The proposed reforms of student assistance will come into effect at the same time that the government’s existing Tuition Fee Framework expires — the current system restricts institutions from increasing domestic undergraduate tuition fees by more than three per cent per year. There is no commitment in the budget to renew this cap, nor has the government committed to extending the cap beyond 2017.

Last week, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Reza Moridi stated that the OSG would be tied to inflation and tuition increases. The fact that this is not written in the budget, however, is deeply concerning. If there is no policy or mechanism to adjust the grant in keeping with changing tuition, then the grants will become less effective each successive year.

These tuition fee caps matter to U of T students. In the 2016–2017 fee schedule released February 11, domestic tuition fees are set to rise by the maximum amount yet again. If the government is to commit to the goals they have outlined in this budget, they must not congratulate themselves too quickly. The effectiveness of their plan is contingent upon many other policies, chiefly tuition regulation.

The Ontario government’s overhaul of the existing student assistance programs, while not free, makes significant improvements to equitable access to university education in this province — changes that in many ways are well worth their price tag. The priorities now become ensuring that changes like these reach the students who need assistance most and maintaing an effective system in the face of a changing funding landscape. 

Tuition fees continue to rise

U of T releases fee increase schedule for 2016–2017

Tuition fees continue to rise

The University of Toronto’s tuition fees are set to rise again. Following the release of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Tuition Fee Framework report, U of T has announced an increase in tuition fees for the 2016–2017 academic year.

The increases amount to an average of three per cent for domestic programs.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Tuition Fee Framework for 2013–2017 reduced a previous five per cent overall cap on tuition fee increases to an overall three per cent cap, which resulted in smaller tuition increases in comparison to the years between 2006–2013. 

An overall three per cent cap means that individual tuition fees may be more or less than three per cent, so long as the university’s total tuition increases averages out to three per cent. These tuition increase restrictions do not apply to international student tuition fees. U of T is able to raise international student tuition without having those increases factor into a calculation of overall tuition increases.

The 2016–2017 tuition fee schedule for international students entering any of U of T’s three campuses will see a nine per cent rise for arts and science programs and an eight per cent rise for applied science and engineering programs. 

Most international students will experience tuition fee increases of five per cent.

Overall, the average increase for international students will be at 5.9 per cent, which is close to the five per cent increase for domestic students’ professional programs.

For a comparative example, the 2016–2017 planned increase for the undergraduate dentistry program is $1,780 for domestic students and $3,440 for international students; both figures represent a five per cent increase for their respective tuition fee rates.