With just a few hours remaining until Ontario’s election on Thursday, the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP, Liberals and Greens have made several promises related to the education sector across the province.
Most of the promises focus on primary and secondary education policies, but there’s been little discussion about the needs of domestic or international students studying in colleges and universities.
In this year’s provincial election, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is demanding parties make students’ issues a priority.
It is calling for free publicly-funded post-secondary education for all, an increase in public funding for post-secondary institutions, reinstatement of OHIP for International students, and the introduction of legislation to protect students’ right to organize.
Premier Doug Ford’s government reduced the tuition fees for domestic students in Ontario by 10 per cent and placed a two-year freeze on it.
However, CFS said it was not accompanied by any other additional public funding.
“This lack of funding resulted in institutions utilizing international and out-of-province students as cash cows by further increasing their tuition fees, in order to fill that financial gap,” said Romina Avila, the CFS’s campaigns and communications coordinator.
“The [Ford] government additionally directly attacked student [organizations] by enacting the so-called ‘Student Choice Initiative’, which severely impacted student groups on campuses and the essential services they provide,” she said.
The Progressive Conservative Party promised to spend almost $6 billion on capital projects in the post-secondary education sector in the next 10 years,
The PCs also promised to provide $21 billion to aid the renovation and expanding school infrastructure and child-care projects, which includes about $14 billion in capital grants over the next 10 years.
The party said it will spend $42.5 million over the next two years to support the growth of undergraduate and postgraduate medical education and training in Ontario.
The Liberals have talked about hiring 15,000 teachers and special education workers while the New Democrats are promising 20,000 if elected. Additionally, both parties say there’s a need to limit the class sizes to between 20 and 26 students per class.
The CFS recognizes the need to hire more educational workers and cap the number of students in a class for “better working conditions for faculty means better learning conditions for students,” Avila said.
“Ontario Post-Secondary Education system has some of the worst student-faculty ratios…faculty are often overworked, underpaid, and have precarious work conditions,” she said.
Other than teachers, the Liberals have also promised to hire 1,000 more mental health professionals for students and teachers.
Avila said mental health care is a necessity for post-secondary students. However, it highlighted that hiring more mental health professionals won’t alone solve the problem.
“We understand that societal context plays a role in exacerbating mental health – it’s impossible to have good mental health if students have to choose between paying tuition, rent, or buying food,” she said.
“Students’ issues need to be addressed holistically to genuinely improve mental health and mental health supports,” Avila said.
The Liberals said they would abandon the construction of Highway 413 and use the $10 billion allotted to build it to construct 200 new schools and repair another 4,500 schools.
But the CFS wants free, accessible, publicly funded education for everyone in Ontario, a topic that was not dealt with by any party.