What is our provincial government doing for students?
Author: Amy Rose Gofton
Last June 12th, while many of the students on this campus were away and in a summer frame of mind, the provincial election culminated into a Liberal Majority government. During the campaign, Kathleen Wynne promised that, if re-elected, her party would keep the 30%-off tuition grant in place. Three months later, it appears that the Liberals will keep their word. As they should. The 30%-off tuition grant was, after all, a Liberal initiative back in 2012. During the campaign, the Conservatives claimed they would cancel the grant if elected. Regardless of whether or not we as students believe the grant is accessible enough, or provides enough monetary relief, having it in place is better than not having it at all.
In 2013 the Liberals pledged to cap rising tuition rates at a 3% increase per year. With the Liberals re-elected, the 3% increase will remain. If, instead, we had elected an NDP government, perhaps Andrea Horwath would have followed through with her pledge to freeze tuition rates at current levels and to eliminate the provincial portion of interest on student loans, but there is no reason to ponder what might have been. The question that needs to be asked now is what plans does the Liberal government have in store for Ontario post-secondary education in the future?
In a document on the website of the Ontario Liberals titled “Building a Stronger Post Secondary System”, a number of initiatives and promises are presented. Starting Fall 2015, any student taking a 70 percent course load or less will have to be charged on a per-credit basis, rather than a flat rate. The document also explains that plans are in the works to expand campuses in underserved areas and provide space for an additional 60,000 postsecondary students. The Liberals plan to work with municipalities, colleges and universities across the province to implement expansions. The government has put out a call for proposals to expand and create new campuses. The deadline for proposals is the 26th of September, 2014.
On July 3rd, the Speech From Throne was read to open the 41st parliament. The speech included direct references to investing in education and skills training, to ensuring more students receive postsecondary education, to building new campuses and to increasing access to French-language programs. The speech describes “public investments to develop the talent and skills of our people . . . not [as] a luxury,” but as an investment in the future. The actual budget, to the dismay of many interest groups, contains no new funding for improved access or affordability of post-secondary education. However, the government still claims that by 2025 Ontario will boast a postsecondary attainment rate of above 70%.
In the three months since the June election, the Liberals have talked, minimally about ways to help students, but they have little to show in terms of action. According to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives printed in the July/August Issue of the CCPA Monitor, Ontario students are still paying, on average, the highest tuition rates in this country. It takes 2.7 times the hours of work to pay for an average Ontario tuition today than it did in 1975. While the Liberals may have pride in their plan to create more spaces and larger campuses for students, it matters little if the affordability and the quality of our education system continues to go downhill.