Originally published in The Leveller, Vol. 9. No. 1
By Jenna Amirault
Ontario’s Liberal government has pushed for privatized and multi-tiered educational reform since 2003. The Liberals have increasingly sought to tie universities’ funding to strategic mandate agreements and performance-based outcomes.
Since 2003, the cost of education has doubled and students have been forced to bear the brunt of the costs by accumulating egregious amounts of debt. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, the average undergraduate student graduates with $27,000 in debt, and graduates students finishing with closer to $41,000.
ABOUT ONTARIO STUDENT GRANT
Presently, the Liberal government is reforming the Ontario Student Assistance Program, promising free tuition for students from families with a net income of $50,000 or less and a reduction in tuition fees for students coming from families with a net income of $83,000 or less. The Liberals claim that the Ontario Student Grant (OSG) reforms will deliver free education to 150,000 students and reduce tuition costs for a further 170,000 (to a total of 320,000 students affected). Liberal leadership says it will do all this for $1.3 billion, the price tag for existing tax credits for students.
Many have pointed out the problems with the Liberals’ math, including a February 2016 Maclean’s article by Zane Schwartz . First, the Government estimates the average cost of tuition to be $6,160 — according to the 2016 Ontario budget — when the average cost of tuition in Ontario is in fact $7,868. Second, the $1.3 billion budget is simply not enough to deliver on the promises to eliminate and reduce tuition cost for 320,000 students.
Third, the OSG is not tied to tuition fee increases. This means that grant funding will remain flat if (and when) tuition fees rise in the future — this is especially worrying now, given that the government’s three per cent cap on tuition increases expires in 2017. Government funding for post-secondary education is set to decrease over the next three years as it falls far below inflation. On top of this, the government is increasing the individual student debt ceiling from $7,400 to $10,000 per year.
The OSG is also not accessible to Ontario’s most economically vulnerable post-secondary students. International students (who face the highest tuition fees of all and reached numbers of approximately 48,000 attendees in the 2014-2015 school year, according to the Council of Ontario Universities) and students who have failed a credit check, have defaulted on a previous student loan or declared bankruptcy are beyond its scope.
All this means that the government will have ample opportunity to advance its goal of further deregulating and privatizing education in the near future. Despite all the government’s hype about free tuition, Ontario students will likely pay more for post-secondary education in the coming years. By presenting the OSG as the solution to student problems, the government refuses to recognize the actual, underlying, systemic depth of the issue of student debt.
Last year, Carleton students rallied to demand the Board of Governors vote against increasing tuition fees. Despite outcries from students (and the university’s $18.4 million dollar surplus), the board decided to once again increase tuition fees by the maximum legal amount: three per cent for undergraduates, five per cent for graduate students, and eight per cent for international students.
The university tried to hide the increased fees for graduate students, claiming that their tuition would not increase. The Graduate Students’ Association exposed this in March 2016 and called for Carleton to present accurate information concerning tuition increases.
The Carleton Board of Governors’ decision to raise tuition fees demonstrated once again that Board members represent private interests, not the interests of students, campus workers or public education. The Board, most of whom are wealthy individuals appointed by the university administration, refuses to work with students or consider the alternatives that they propose.
This reluctance on the side of administration further demonstrates the danger of grant reform over real systemic changes that ensure dedicated public funding for universities and free education for students. Because the government is not tying its post-secondary funding to inflation, the share paid out of students’ pockets will continue to increase year after year.
STUDENTS FIGHT BACK WITH DAY OF ACTION AGAINST FEES
Students across Canada will mobilize on Nov. 2 for the first National Day of Action against tuition fees since 2012. They are demanding free and accessible education for all through the reduction and elimination of tuition fees, conversion of student loans into non-repayable grants and the removal of interest rates on all existing student loans.
The Day of Action was called by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) at the National Annual Meeting on June 4 as a result of students recognizing the need to mobilize to defend their own interests. In Ottawa, students at Carleton University, the University of Ottawa and Saint Paul University are working together to make sure their voices are heard.
In Ontario, students continue to face the highest tuition fees in the country. As they prepare to take to the streets, students and organizers alike are confronting new challenges, including a provincial government that has not reduced or even frozen tuition fees but claims it will be providing “free education” to a number of students beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year through the Ontario Student Grants (OSG) program.
A closer look at the OSG (as seen in the adjoining article) suggests it is part of longstanding efforts to privatize and deregulate university education. It accelerates the trend of university funding coming out of the pockets of individuals as opposed to public funding. At Carleton, tuition fees now make up 58 per cent of the operating budget versus only 37 per cent coming from public funding. Carleton’s administration has not supported students’ efforts to reverse this trend.
EDUCATION IS A RIGHT
Students in Canada are demanding free, accessible and emancipatory education. Neo-liberal funding cuts and “solutions” designed to further privatize and deregulate universities will not be accepted. Students affirm that education is a right that must be guaranteed in practice with the public control and social responsibility of a society providing a bright future for its youth.
That is the demand students are going all out for in the National Day of Action on Nov. 2.
Jenna Amirault is the Vice-President External of the Carleton Graduate Students’ Association (GSA). Get involved in the GSA Political Action Committee by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org