By Andrew Russell
As the Wynne government prepares the 2013 provincial budget, student groups in Ontario are making the case for a reduction in tuition costs.
According to Statistics Canada, Ontario has the highest average undergraduate fee at $7,180, and the lowest per-student post-secondary funding at $10,390.
The Canadian Federation of Students and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Association have both appealed to the province in pre-budget consultations to avoid rapidly increasing tuition costs.
The CFS is proposing an aggressive three-year plan to reduce tuition by 30 per cent across Ontario.
“The majority of the 30 per cent reduction that were proposing actually involves simply reallocating existing funds in the sector. So it doesn’t cost anything to government,” Sarah Jane King, chairperson with CFS-Ontario, told Humber News.
“Our proposal is that in year one we see a 17 per cent reduction for every student in the province. And that reduction comes from reallocating the Ontario Tuition Grant that was put in place this past year.”
Ahead of the spring budget due out in April, CFS-Ontario is appealing to the Ontario government to include its strategy to reduce tuition costs.
The budget is a contentious issue for the Wynne government who needs the support of the NDP in order to avoid a spring election.
The CFS said money for tuition reductions could be found by closing corporate tax loopholes.
“A budget is about both revenue and expenses. We can’t simply look at education as an expense but an investment. We need to look at where the government has been cutting down it’s own revenue, for example through corporate tax cuts,” said King.
”There ‘s a lot of money to be had in government inefficiencies as well as tax cuts. There are many different places where money can be found.”
King said that getting to the 30 per cent reduction would require an investment of $250 million in year two and an investment of $550 million in year three.
The Ontario Undergraduate Student Association commissioned at study by Nanos Research on tuition costs and found almost 60 per cent of the 500 people surveyed were in favor of freezing tuition rates at the current $7,180, while increase university funding at the rate of inflation.
Rylan Kinnon, executive director with OUSA, said if rising tuition costs aren’t addressed the province will pay for it in the future.
“By 2017-2018 the government will spend $180 million more on the Ontario Student Opportunities Grant annually and an additional $80.5 million on the Ontario tuition grant annually by 2017/18. So you’re looking at $260 million in additional annual spending solely associated with tuition increases,” said Kinnon.
“There’s some long term cost growth that can be avoided that can help offset the cost of providing the increase in per student funding at the rate of inflation.”
There are signs the province is willing to address the soaring costs of post-secondary education in Ontario.
In a March 3 interview with the Toronto Star, the Minister of Training, Colleges and University Brad Duguid hinted at the possibility of keeping tuition increases under five per cent.
Tuition costs in Ontario have steadily risen by five per cent or more for the last seven years.
The recently appointed Minister said that as the father of to high school students he was “keenly aware” of the need to ensure affordable education.
Duguid added that the Ministry’s goal is to balance the requests of student groups and the interests of post-secondary institutions.