Opinion: Ontario budget’s postsecondary education provisions like painting lipstick on a pig

Despite ostensibly reducing fees, changes to OSAP, tuition will cost students, the economy more in the long run

Opinion: Ontario budget’s postsecondary education provisions like painting lipstick on a pig

As promised, the 2019 provincial budget makes sweeping changes to the postsecondary education system as we know it, decreasing funding in 2019–2020 by $700 million compared to last year in the name of “efficiency” and “sustainability” while claiming to better prepare students for the workforce. In reality, these cuts, primarily through changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the availability of grants for the middle class, hinder the accessibility of postsecondary institutions for lower income families and the middle class, impacting the future of the economy as new graduates are burdened by more debt.

OSAP cuts and grants hang in the balance 

Before the formal release of the budget, the Ford government planned to cut funds available for grants by as much as 50 per cent in favour of more loans. This would impact middle-class students the most, as the budget commits to ensuring that 82 per cent of available grants are received by families with incomes of $50,000 or less, up from 76 per cent in the previous budget. However, the budget neglects to specify how much the total funds will be decreased — if they end up being reduced it at all — as previously stated.

The budget fails to disclose many policies previously purported, such as the elimination of guaranteed free tuition for low-income families and extending the amount of time parents are expected to financially contribute from four years after high school to six when applying for OSAP. We don’t know if these policies have been axed due to public outcry, or if the Ford government lost its nerve and is simply postponing the announcement.

Many students are able to fund a significant portion or even the entirety of their tuition through grants, and that is the only way they can afford it, regardless of the tax bracket their parents fall into. What will happen to these students? For starters, they will be forced to take out and pay back more loans. The cost of these loans will be inflated due to the elimination of the interest-free grace period for the Ontario portion of these loans — which gave graduates a six-month window to gain employment before running up interest on their loans. As if students in their final year didn’t already have enough to stress about, now they must frantically job hunt while cramming for exams and writing papers.

The interest-free grace period gave students a crucial cushion post-graduation, allowing them time to find a job before feeling the full weight of crippling financial debt. Its elimination will have an impact on the future of the provincial economy, as young adults moving into the workforce will have less disposable income to stimulate local economies. As baby boomers continue to age and exit the workforce, young people are poised to become the backbone of the provincial economy. It is unwise to burden them with financial debt straight out of the gate, before they have a chance to realize their full potential as contributors to the economy by entering the workforce.

This lecture brought to you by Coca-Cola?  

In a thinly veiled attempt at appeasing angry students, a 10 per cent tuition cut has been slapped on top of these austerity measures, painting lipstick on the proverbial pig that is this education budget. While this seems beneficial to students on the surface, without a means of compensating institutions for their revenue losses, this serves to further destabilize the postsecondary education system as we know it. The only institutions that will have help adjusting to the tuition rate reduction are “smaller Northern institutions” that will have access to an unidentified fund, amounting to an undisclosed amount, at an unknown rate.

In reality, the people who stand to benefit the most from the tuition rate reduction are those who can already afford it, because students who can’t afford it would have been able to offset the cost through grants, bursaries, and the free tuition program. With the aforementioned changes to OSAP, the amount of people eligible for financial aid programs has drastically been reduced, forcing students into the debt cycle immediately after graduation.

Postsecondary institutions will have to adapt to an approximate cumulative of $440 million in lost revenue, which will have a significant impact on the resources and services available to students on campus. At U of T, these measures have wiped $88 million from its 2019–2020 operating budget. According to the budget, the average student enrolled in an arts and science degree will save what amounts to $55 a month in tuition costs. In return, postsecondary institutions may rely on cutting back services and resources to students, such as closing libraries earlier or reducing writing centre hours. Depending on the individual, the savings may not feel worth it.

Regardless, postsecondary institutions will be forced to make up for this lack somehow. It is not unrealistic to presume they may choose do so through a dystopian amount of corporate sponsorships. Before we know it, lectures may soon be ‘brought to you by Coca-Cola’ on chalkboards plastered with bold logos and quippy slogans.

Prioritizing the wants of the rich

In another meagre attempt at appeasing students, the 2019 budget states students will be able to pick and choose which “non-essential” incidental fees they want to pay for. These “non-essential” fees serve to fund important student organizations and associations, such as newspapers, student unions, and clubs supporting minority groups. It is perturbing to realize how this move systematically defunds the very groups who are most likely to try and hold the government accountable for its actions and ideologies.

The degradation of the education budget is an example of the Ford government showing its true values; prioritizing the wants of the rich at the expense of the needs of the working class. Instead of balancing the budget within his first term as originally promised, Doug Ford is performing a precarious balancing act between attempting to appease students with superficial policies, while taking away key financial resources which will help them in the long run. He has underestimated and insulted the intellect of postsecondary students with red herring policies meant to distract us from the immediate and longer term consequences of these misdirected austerity measures.

As province-wide campus protests have shown, we will not take the attacks lying down.

Fine, charge us a higher tuition — but support us, too

U of T needs to address the shortcomings of the international student experience

Fine, charge us a higher tuition — but support us, too

People often ask international students like me about our reason for coming to U of T, where we make up 21 per cent of the student body. For most, the answer remains rooted in U of T’s world-class reputation, the nature of its academic environment and, most importantly, the competitive quality of teaching one can expect to receive during their time here.

But the subtext of this question is typically asking why we choose to pay such a high tuition rate. For me, the opportunity to study here was an achievement that opened up new doors away from my comfort zone. This was enough reason to accept the financial commitment that it places on my family for the next few years. However, it is clear to me now that for many international students, this is a price that seems to be more of a burden given the experience that they have been offered thus far. 

Some have taken to expressing these views online through humour, with one recent Facebook user contributing a meme to the group UofT memes for true 🅱️lue teens, picturing President Meric Gertler flipping through pages on “how to make money from international students.”

Following the Ford government’s proposed changes to postsecondary funding, The Varsity has reported on the ways in which this decision can lead to the university increasing international enrolment to compensate for the downturn in revenue. Currently, the price tag on a degree from U of T for international students is well over $50,000, just for tuition. Furthermore, international tuition is currently the biggest source of revenue for the university at 30 per cent — more than even the provincial government’s funding. Overall, conversations concerning increasing international enrolment revolve around financial exploitability.

However, the term ‘exploitation’ does not effectively reflect my concerns with this drive to increase international enrolment. In Gertler’s interview with The Varsity, he brought up the need to match “peer institutions” in the US, some of which have higher international enrolment. U of T supposedly needs to increase its global character, as the classroom environment benefits from the presence of international students. While I agree with the benefit assessment, the comparison seems to suggest that status and competitiveness require quotas to be met.

This is not the case. The competitive status of U of T is a reflection of its selectivity in recruiting students and the prestige of its academic offerings — not the number of international applicants. I have found this benefit most reflected through the presence of talented international students in my  classes and the increased quality of discourse, especially in debating peers who hold different worldviews to my own.

To increase the quality of talent that U of T recruits abroad is a proper objective, but I fear that a drive to increase international enrolment is not intended to serve this end. There are only so many students this university can accommodate, and a drive to increase international enrolment might, in turn, lead to a decrease in domestic enrolment.

An increase in international student enrolment correlates with an increase in the university’s operational budget, which is how the university is able to maintain the quality of experience it currently offers. Yet there is very little that the university does to support international students in their classrooms and integrate them into the broader community.

While Gertler may point to the Centre for International Experience (CIE) as an example of this, my experience is that the CIE lacks the resources to help students like me with the challenge of finding their own sense of community at the university and in the wider city.

Furthermore, the international student label often comes with the assumption of abundant financial security, which Gertler also highlighted. We are stereotypically portrayed as excessively wealthy and lacking in contribution to university life, which is not necessarily the case. A peer of mine from California said that “there is a consensus that international students bought their way into this school” — but they “worked just as hard as anyone else to be here.”

I understand the need for international student fees to be higher than domestic fees, given that in the former case the province does not provide per student funding. But the 36 per cent increase in fees since 2015 is a cost that does not commensurately contribute toward an equal experience for international students.

An increase in international tuition fees is not necessarily an increase in the value of education that this university offers. These fees do not take into account or address the difficulty and cost that international students face in moving and settling into another country and facing social barriers as a foreigner.

U of T has the resources to impact and resolve these issues by funding initiatives that encourage student integration and support the transition into university for international students. Rivalling our peer institutions must begin with making access to this university accessible for those who deserve to be here.

Neeharika Hemrajani is a first-year Humanities student at St. Michael’s College.

The Breakdown: How the Ford government’s changes could affect international students

Tuition to stay within predetermined schedule, enrolment may increase to accommodate domestic tuition cut

The Breakdown: How the Ford government’s changes could affect international students

International students make up a majority of U of T’s tuition revenue stream and a sizeable portion of the undergraduate population, but it is not entirely clear how they will be affected by the provincial government’s recently announced changes to postsecondary funding. Here, The Varsity rounds up reporting from the past month about how international students could be affected by these cuts.

U of T stands to lose $88 million from its projected budget in the first year following the 10 per cent tuition cut mandated by the provincial government, and will either have to cut its budget or increase revenue accordingly.

By The Varsity’s estimates, international students contribute close to $1 billion in tuition fees to U of T. Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President & Provost of U of T, told The Varsity that the university will not be increasing international tuition for the upcoming academic year more than already planned to make up for the loss in domestic tuition revenue, and that international intake will depend on decisions made by individual programs.

According to Regehr, international tuition will continue to follow the published schedule. The average weighted international tuition fee increase in 2018–2019 was six per cent, with the base Arts & Science international student tuition at UTSG coming in at $49,800 in 2017–2018.

At a UTM Campus Council meeting on January 30, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull suggested over-enrolling international students to compensate for the domestic tuition cut.

Krull elaborated in a statement to The Varsity that, though UTM took in an unexpected number of international students in the fall, the campus still has room to increase its international population. Where UTM had intended to have about 25 per cent international enrolment — which is currently at about 24 per cent — over-enrolling students would be “a change in timing and not a change in the substance of our longer-term academic plan,” said Krull.

The Varsity estimates that UTM’s regulated fee programs will lose $10 million in domestic tuition revenue due to the provincial mandate. Currently, UTM receives around $100 million in domestic tuition revenue per year.

Krull further added that he hopes to have a plan to deal with the impact of the tuition cuts by the end of March.

“This is a complex problem involving many participants, where impacts are quite different on a unit depending on the action taken. It will be weeks before an integrated set of actions is developed, and this will then be tuned in further iterations with unit leaders to achieve some good level of consensus before calling this a plan.”

What we know about the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary education

U of T stands to lose $88 million in expected revenue, describes little communication with province

What we know about the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary education

On January 17, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU) Merrilee Fullerton stood before a room full of media in the provincial offices east of Queen’s Park to announce that Ontario universities must cut domestic tuition by 10 per cent, provide “opt-out” options for incidental fees, and adhere to broad changes made to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

Despite some clarifications made in an earlier Varsity interview with David Piccini — the Parliamentary Assistant to Fullerton — ambiguity remains about the specifics of the provincial mandate. The university has also not commented heavily on the issue.

Meanwhile, several protests organized by student unions and other groups have occurred across the province, with more to come. In these protests, thousands of students demanded answers about what these changes will mean for them.

Based on further interviews with the government and the university, The Varsity takes a look into what we know and what we don’t know about the cuts so far.

Domestic tuition cut by 10 per cent

Repeatedly described as “historic” by Piccini, the Ford government’s leading announcement is of a 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition for the next academic year, which will also apply to graduate studies, including Master of Business Administration and Juris Doctor programs. The government has also mandated a tuition freeze for the following year.

Universities and colleges will have to absorb any losses in revenue, as the cut is unfunded by the provincial government.

In an interview with The Varsity, U of T Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr said that these cuts will take $65 million off of the university’s base budget, or $88 million from its expected revenue, since the university had planned to continue raising tuition by three per cent.

In the second year, the changes will cost the university $113 million.

Regehr went on to say that the impact will vary depending on individual divisions, as some divisions rely more heavily on domestic tuition income, but also said that there will be university-wide adjustments as well.

“What we hope to do is find solutions that minimally impact students, staff and faculty, and programs,” said Regehr.

Regehr also confirmed that international tuition will not be affected by the cut, adding that the university plans to follow its already-published tuition framework.

Speaking to The Varsity, Piccini declared that such changes were what he and the Ford government were elected to do.

“I’ve been in meetings with… university presidents, administrators since day one. I’ve been out on campuses and have been in various universities. We’ve been here speaking to presidents as well. And they’ve all said, ‘We know a tightening of the belt is coming,’” said Piccini.

However, in the interview with Regehr, the provost said that neither she nor the university had held discussions with the provincial government on the changes to the university’s funding structure, and that, since then, the university has only received directives through the Council of Ontario Universities — with no word from the provincial government or Fullerton’s office.

When this was brought up to Piccini, he said that The Varsity was “cherry-picking” this policy. “Do you think it’s feasible for our government, every time it introduces legislation, to go around the province on every single piece of draft legislation introduced? That’s unrealistic,” he said.

Piccini went on to say that he had received a “standing ovation” at events after bringing up postsecondary affordability, and that the 10 per cent domestic tuition slash was a result of conversations at events, on campuses, and “over a kitchen table.”

“So in summation, all of that has fed into this policy.”

OSAP interest rates, grants, loans

OSAP will also be undergoing dramatic changes, primarily centred around a push to provide more grants to students whose household income falls below a $50,000 threshold. To accommodate this change, the Ontario government will be shifting the program to provide more loans than grants.

Interest will also begin accruing from day one after graduation, where previously, interest did not accrue on provincial loans for a six-month grace period.

For students in second-entry programs or attending out-of-province institutions, the grant-to-loan ratio will now be a minimum 50 per cent loan.

When asked how these changes would help students, Piccini answered that the government needs to be “fiscally responsible” — later claiming that “you could pull up to university in a Ferrari” and still receive grants under the previous OSAP system. He returned with a question of his own, asking why the federal government does not have parity with Ontario in its grant-to-loan ratio.

Emphasizing that “the sustainability of the system” needs to be ensured, Piccini also said that preserving the “integrity of the structure” of OSAP requires balancing “our own immediate interests” with the interests of students like those “in rural Ontario, whose families earn $30,000 median income in [his] riding.”

Regehr, who underscored the university’s high spending on student assistance, said that the university will work to “try and limit the impact of these changes on our students.”

Last year, U of T spent $210 million, or eight per cent of its budget, on student aid — more than any other university in Ontario, according to Regehr.

The Student Choice Initiative: an “opt-out” from incidental fees

The last mandate from the provincial government, dubbed the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), is for Ontario universities to develop an “opt-out” system for incidental fees, which would either be labelled “essential” or “non-essential.”

Already included in the “essential” category are walksafe programs, counselling, athletics, academic support, and health and safety-related fees.

Fullerton also announced on February 1 that transit passes, such as the ones offered at UTM, will also be considered essential.

Piccini expressed his belief that the SCI is in no way analogous to taxes, saying that he could “make that analogy ad nauseam” to all issues.

Piccini said that to compare funds for “the quidditch club or [to] boycott and divest Israel… with taxes is laughable at best and worrisome at worst.”

Piccini also gave the example of subscription fees for media outlets like The Globe and Mail or the National Post as a reason for why campus media should not be considered essential.

He added that the fees being considered non-essential “have nothing to do with taxes and have nothing to do with the essential services that government provides,” going on to say that “we prescribe and force feed down new students’ throats things — and from people whom they didn’t elect, programs that they didn’t vote to support.”

On whether health and dental programs offered by student unions are considered “essential,” Piccini said that these will be ongoing discussions between the universities and the student unions.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union currently administers the health and dental plans for full-time UTSG and UTM students, though there is an existing opt-out option for these fees.

Piccini had also confirmed in a previous interview that universities will have final say on the decisions to be made about which fees are labelled “essential” or “non-essential.”

Regehr, however, says that the university is waiting for a clearer mandate from the provincial government.

“We just don’t know what that means and what kind of latitude is expected, and whether there are parameters around that, like [if] certain amounts have to be optional,” said the provost. “We just don’t know that.”

“We certainly support the kinds of activities that are funded by student fees. We think that those are important and really enhance the student experience.”

Opinion: Shortsighted changes to OSAP, tuition will have long-lasting ripple effects

Students will pay the price for Progressive Conservatives’ political manoeuvre

Opinion: Shortsighted changes to OSAP, tuition will have long-lasting ripple effects

The provincial government’s recently announced changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) have been met with protests and widespread criticism, and for good reason — how can the government enact such a consequential move when it has insufficient data, all the while cowering behind the guise of program sustainability and student affordability? To try and make sense of the Progressive Conservatives’ (PC’s) move, let’s put into context the previous Liberal government’s program changes and delve deeper into the government’s principal evidence trove: last month’s Auditor General report.    

While proposing the 2016 budget, the Liberals announced a plan to completely redesign student financial assistance, based on several reports such as the 2012 Drummond Commission report, with the goal of increasing accessibility and affordability. The principle change would be the provision of a majority of the funds upfront — in the form of grants — while eliminating loan forgiveness programs and tuition tax credits to counterbalance the rise in costs. Other changes included consolidating existing OSAP grants, modifying eligibility criteria to recognize family size as well as income, and expanding support for mature students. This sweeping transformation resulted in the program cost jumping from $1.347 billion in the 2016–2017 academic year to $1.614 billion in 2017–2018 — an almost 20 per cent increase that surpassed previous projected estimates — but should it have led to the PC’s latest program repeal?

The sudden increase is not only due to the change in the composition of student aid but also thanks to an increase of 24 per cent in the number of university OSAP recipients and 27 per cent in college recipients. The surge in uptake rates is what the redesign was supposed to do — make more students eligible for a reduction in loans.

The Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk sees this same statistic as a sign that money is going to those who don’t need it, with no proof of aid being received by the low-income communities. Moreover, she argues that by the 2020–2021 academic year, the program cost would have ballooned to $2.012 billion — a 50 per cent net increase from 2016–2017.

How exactly did the Auditor General arrive at this projection in the first place?

OSAP costs would have to increase at a pace of more than 7.6 per cent year-on-year from 2017–2018 to reach the purported $2.012 billion target. This is more than twice the annual increase from 2013–2014 to 2016–2017 when the average annual increase was 2.09 per cent. How can the Auditor General justify such a projection, based on only one year’s worth of evidence? Especially considering the PC’s own argument that the increase in enrollment has been modest at a rate of one to two per cent? In fact, as the program takes effect and the dust settles, the ministry will tighten oversight and we could expect a plateau in costs.

How do the PC’s want to proceed instead? Their answer is with a 10 per cent tuition cut across the board, a freeze for the 2020–2021 academic year, and the possible opt-out option non-tuition fees. This “historic” proposal will not do much to help those who need financial support for education the most. The Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton said it herself: on average, the program will save a university student $660 per semester — hardly enough to cover textbooks for most programs.

The government will also not be providing any support for the institutions to recoup their losses, saying that a 10 per cent cut will only amount to a two to four per cent reduction in operating revenues. But even so, two years of consecutive declines could lead to universities hiking tuition at a hitherto unseen rate from 2021–2022 onward if the government does not implement any restrictions. In the interim, to make up for lost domestic revenues, the universities could also increase international enrollment and tuition for which there are no provincial regulations. The other thing to note is that the PC’s have not clarified whether they will be reinstituting the loan forgiveness grants and the tuition tax credits that the Liberals scrapped in favour of the comprehensive grant program.

Empirically and from a policy standpoint, many studies show that a tuition decrease does little to improve affordability and accessibility, but instead lowers the quality of education. On the other hand, other studies have shown that increasing the proportion of non-repayable funds will have a positive effect on enrolment — given time — and enhance accessibility for those families in the lower income brackets.

In the short run, the PC’s will reduce OSAP costs and achieve a more balanced budget. However, wouldn’t taking on a short-term deficit to improve the quality of education instead be a risk worth taking? At minimum, they could have increased the proportion of loans for middle-income families while instituting tighter controls on the disbursement of grants.

In reality, the disbandment of the Liberal policy is just a political manoeuvre. At the end of the day, the students will pay the price.

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

Is Ford “for the students”?

Contributors debate the announced changes to tuition, funding, student fees frameworks

Is Ford “for the students”?

On January 17, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative (PC) Ontario government announced changes to postsecondary education, which include lower domestic tuition, Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) reforms, and an opt-out option for ancillary fees. This has sparked conversation about the nature of affordable education and student democracy on university and college campuses. Below, five students answer whether or not these changes are, as the PCs claim, “for the students.” 

No: tuition and OSAP cuts altogether reflect a cynical move 

Ford is trying to cheat the system and pull the wool over students’ eyes. Good education costs money and U of T students — domestic ones, at least — have it pretty good as is. Although tuition is still expensive, we’re paying pennies compared to our southern neighbours. 

Ford’s move has jeopardized the financial stability of universities as well. According to HuffPost, mammoth credit rating agency Moody’s released a report on Monday cautioning the Ontario government about the negative implications of such a random and drastic tuition slash. Although no university’s credit rating has been downgraded yet, a senior credit officer with Moody’s said he’ll be watching Ontario universities closely. 

The more upsetting part of the tuition slash is that it’s simply a cheap cover for Ford’s OSAP cuts. It’s a cynical and shifty move by Ford, and it makes students feel as if they’re being scammed and tricked. The recent protests prove this sentiment. 

Another potential implication of this move is that it could divide students along lines of income. Students who no longer are eligible for OSAP — or who are seeing their benefits reduced — may see themselves at odds with those who are still eligible for the assistance and may become resentful because of it. 

A more modest tuition cut, by itself, would have benefitted students and the province at large. But when you step back and see the cynicism of the move in its entire context, you realize something: cheaper is not always better. 

Ted Fraser is a third-year International Relations student at Victoria College.

Yes: the tuition cut saves students money and is the responsible choice 

When I was a high school freshman, the prospect of postsecondary education seemed like a bright one. U of T, our esteemed, multi-billion-dollar institution especially promised to be a place for learning and innovation. However, there was one clear obstacle: its cost. Many students coming from lower or middle-income families, like myself, believe that the cost of university tuition is excessive. 

It is for this reason that savings in terms of tuition cuts should be welcomed. When I consider the fees at U of T, I see tuition prices were previously set to rise three per cent for the 2018–2019 academic year. This means that many students, including myself, would have potentially paid hundreds more dollars in high-cost tuition for every year that we pursued our degrees. Thousands more dollars go into residency and textbooks. Ford’s reduction of tuition by 10 per cent province-wide counters these costs and alleviates financial pressure on families like mine. 

The money we save can be invested instead into books, school materials, and living expenses for the upscale price tags of mediocre Toronto condos. Saving students’ money is the right, responsible choice, and one that invests in the financial stability of our future workforce.
The Ford government has received considerable criticism for introducing more loans over grants in the OSAP structure, a practice previously executed under provincial governments prior to Kathleen Wynne. The truth is that this model is structured on financial responsibility. Although student debt is a reality for most of us, the deficit that our province battles is enormous, to say the least. The shares of a multi-billion-dollar deficit are on the heads of every Ontarian. 

Tackling the provincial debt and managing the financial accessibility of postsecondary education are not mutually exclusive. The Ford government has made the funds available to students like myself to continue to pursue our postsecondary education. 

Andrea Chiappetta is a second-year Political Science, American Studies, and History student at Woodsworth College.

No: Ford’s opt-out model for student fees is an attack on student life

Social events, safe spaces, quality reporting, and community development: these are only some of the services provided by student-led and student-funded campus groups. But Ford’s plan to make “non-essential” fees optional means that many of these groups may lose their funding. His government argues that this change will let students choose what is “essential” to our university experience. But it is actually an attack on student life that refuses to acknowledge that campus groups are a necessity, not a luxury. 

Since my first year at U of T, I have been involved with both my residence and college council, two student-run publications, and a couple of clubs. I know so many dedicated people who pour their hearts into these campus groups and make a difference in their communities. I believe the existence of campus groups gives students the power to shape our own experiences at U of T. 

Student-run media outlets create platforms where we can voice our opinions and criticisms of events both in and out of the university. Student groups provide us with the space to organize ourselves and engage with our surroundings according to our own interests. Furthermore, they allow student leaders and student bodies to forge strong community networks and a sense of solidarity in what can feel like an ocean of people here at U of T. In other words, the services that are paid for by student fees are far from just ‘optional,’ and making them so will be devastating to the health and vibrancy of life on campus.

It is in the university’s power to decide if any student fees besides those related to health and athletics are “essential.” As students, we owe it to ourselves to push the administration and protect the spaces of agency that campus groups carve out for us. 

Michelle Zhang is a second-year Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies, Urban Studies, and Political Science student at Innis College. 

Yes: the opt-out model for student fees strengthens democracy 

I first clarify that I believe that student loans should be forgiven and postsecondary education should be freely available without financial barriers to access, as education is arguably the greatest long-term investment.

Having said that, in lieu of such far-sighted societal investment, I understand what it means to be in a weak financial position, where paying an extra $500–2,000 per year for non-essential and non-tuition fees can be a struggle. Coupled with some of the highest postsecondary tuition fees in all of Canada, and further confounded by the burden of the highest national cost of living, students in Toronto are at even greater financial risk.

Critics like Nour Alideeb, the Canadian Federation of Students—Ontario chairperson, suggested, among other things, that reforms to student fees are an attack against democratically elected student unions. Such criticism should be disregarded as fear-mongering.

Contrary to their fears, the reforms are part of a broader democratization of tuition fees to re-enable and empower people to take control of decisions with respect to their financial resources.

The current forced fee system shares an uncanny resemblance to the sort of negative-option billing ruled illegal by both federal and provincial governments. It is not acceptable for anyone to feel entitled to dictate and override another person’s individual rights with respect to access and management of their own financial resources.

Elected or not, it’s morally wrong to trojan-horse individual student accounts and usurp another’s financial resources for services that should, in reality, be paid for by actual end users and not by speculated potential users.

The greatest indicator of the worth of some service or product is its position in a free market predicated on choice. For instance, take a look at the success of organic and fair trade products. Students who bike to campus can choose to pay for Bikechain and others can, instead, focus their own money on transit passes. We vote with our dollars and that’s how it should be. 

Oscar Starschild is a second-year Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science student at Woodsworth College.

No: The student fees opt-out model could further divide the Ontario student movement

There is much concern that allowing students to opt out of student fees will result in significant funding decreases for services that student unions provide. Such decreases can be expected, given the low levels of engagement in student unions, and particularly in the University of Toronto Students’ Union, where voter turnouts of less than 20 per cent are common. If over 80 per cent of students represented by a student union do not vote in the annual elections, take part in its activities, or rely on its services, there is little to keep them from remaining members if they have the opportunity to keep their student fees. 

However, funding decreases would limit student unions’ ability to advocate for a better quality of education against much wealthier university administrations and governments. If enough students opt out, student unions would no longer be able to provide services or would have to drastically increase their levies, which would, in turn, prompt more students to leave. Student union staff may have to be laid off and some student unions may even collapse.

While the students who opt out would have a little more money, they would no longer be protected by student unions. It would be much easier for university administrations to raise their tuition fees as opposed to those of unionized students. 

Perhaps, if non-unionized students would be able to make their own separate student unions, there could be hope. This is especially because students enduring abuse and corruption under unions that have questionable or broken democratic systems, like the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, may be able to separate and form better representative organizations. 

However, not only would it be difficult to convince universities to acknowledge multiple unions of the same student demographics, but such fragmentation would likely make it harder for students to organize collectively.

Justin Patrick is a first-year master’s student in Political Science. He was recently elected as the Internal Commissioner of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union.

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.