The government of Ontario has outraged students and academic staff by giving the go-ahead for private, not-for-profit and for-profit universities to set up shop in the province as early as this September.
Student protestors interrupted the official announcement by Colleges and Universities Minister Dianne Cunningham who was forced to retreat to another room where security guards blocked the doors.
The government claims the move will give students greater access to higher quality education, but critics say it will create a two-tier system that benefits the rich and weakens existing public universities.
"I'm sure there are a lot of wealthy people who would want to see this but it's not good for the citizens of Ontario as a whole," said CAUT past president Bill Graham. "It will mean a reduction in the quality of education. We are totally opposed to this."
"It's a disaster, a total disaster," agreed Joel Hardin, Ontario chair of the Canadian Federation of Students. "We're not going quietly into the night on this one."
CAUT president Tom Booth warned that private universities will not be as cost-free as the government claims and will drain badly-needed resources away from the public system.
"While the government says it won't initially provide operating grants to private universities, students will receive taxpayer-supported student loans and faculty will be eligible for public research grants," said Booth. "Instead of subsidizing private universities, the government should focus on investing in the province's public system and bringing down tuition fees."
Booth added that Ontario currently spends the lowest amount on universities than any other province.
The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations earlier released a study noting that a private university education would cost students up to four times more than at public universities.
"Private universities offer students no real choice," insisted OCUFA president Deborah Flynn. "The only options private universities give students are higher tuition fees and questionable program offerings."
CAUT Council, meeting in Ottawa when the announcement was made, unanimously passed an emergency resolution condemning the government of Ontario's decision.
"We think this decision will have national ramifications," said Booth. "We are quite concerned that the introduction of for-profit institutions in particular could subject the entire post-secondary education sector to international trade agreements like NAFTA."
With the announcement, Ontario is the first province to officially offer degree-granting status to private, for-profit universities.
The government is planning a month of public consultations on its proposals beginning in late May.