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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2005

Rae Report Calls for Higher Tuition, More Debt

Ontario urged to boost spending, but students to pay more.

Students in Ontario say the long awaited report on the province's post-secondary education system confirms their worst fears by urging higher tuition fees and more student debt.

The report - Ontario: A Leader in Learning - is the culmination of a government-appointed review headed by the former provincial NDP leader Bob Rae. It recommends maintaining the current tuition freeze, but only until the student assistance system is reformed and loan limits are raised. Then, the report says, the government should deregulate tuition, giving universities and colleges the right to set fees at whatever levels they wish.

"The bottom line is higher fees and more debt for students and their families," said Jesse Greener, Ontario chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.

Greener said Rae's call for tuition deregulation and higher loan limits mirrors recent developments in the United Kingdom where "access has suffered and low-income students have borne the brunt of the reforms."

The report also calls on the provincial government to boost funding to universities and colleges by $1.3 billion over the next three years in order to deal with a "seriously underfunded" post-secondary education system and to bring Ontario's per student funding levels up to the national average.

"When you look at how other provinces and other countries fund their systems, and are likely to fund their systems in the future, Ontario is below the average, and that is simply not good enough," Rae concluded.

Michael Doucet of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations said Rae's report highlights the funding crisis facing universities and colleges in the province.

"The system has been hanging on by its fingernails far too long," Doucet said. "Now it's time for the provincial government to follow up on its promise to make education a top priority and show us the money."

Leah Casselman, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, also welcomed the suggested funding increases, but said the report should have dealt with the exploitation of part-time workers in the community colleges who are prohibited from joining unions.

"The report fails to address the unchecked discrimination, harassment and human rights abuses against part-time workers who should have the right to join a union like other workers," Casselman said.

Other recommendations in the report include a plan to hire more faculty and a $300 million overhaul of student assistance programs, including the creation of provincial learning bonds and up-front grants for low-income students.

Greener said students would welcome the introduction of a new grants program, but warned that not enough students in need would benefit because of low eligibility thresholds.

"Only families earning less than $22,615 would be eligible," Greener said. "Students from households with family income between $22,615 and $35,000 would receive only a portion of the full grant. Anyone over $35,000 will have to finance their education exclusively through loans."

CAUT president Loretta Czernis said the Rae report rightly highlights the low levels of public funding, but should have also focused on ways to reduce tuition.

"Throughout the report, Rae assumes tuition fees will have to go up, and go up substantially," she said. "But there's nothing inevitable about this. It's a political decision - whether we pay for post-secondary education fairly and equitably through the tax system, or whether we force students and their families, regardless of their ability, to pay more and more out of their pockets."