Volume 12, Number 12 February 18, 2005

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Major Ontario report calls for accessibility, sustainability

TORONTO – Ensuring a place for every qualified student in Ontario universities and colleges regardless of means, and holding the line on tuition until student assistance programs are overhauled and the government has made new investments in post-secondary education top the list of recommendations of the long-awaited Rae Report.

Released Feb. 7, the eight-month-long review of Ontario’s post-secondary education headed by former premier Bob Rae calls on the provincial government to provide $1.3 billion in new base funding for colleges and universities by 2007-08 in order to improve a “seriously underfunded” education system. According to a government summary of the report entitled Ontario: A Leader in Learning, this is one of the “practical actions the provincial government needs to take to ensure excellence, accessibility and sustainability of its higher education system.”

Bob Rae

Bob Rae

Retooling the student assistance program will require a $300-million overhaul, said the report. This includes new up-front grants for more than 95,000 low-income students, more loans that reflect the real costs of education for low- and middle-income students, and new loans to help parents contribute to their children’s education. Rae also calls on the federal government to focus its student assistance on living costs, and proposes a co-ordinated system with the federal government to enable graduates to repay loans at rates tied directly to their incomes.

Once these reforms are in place, colleges and universities would set their own tuition, at rates as high as $6,000 per program, “subject to a new provincial regulatory framework that ensures predictability, transparency and affordability for students”, said the report. But when asked if he thinks students should pay less tuition, Rae’s response was “No, I don’t”.

And, according to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, tuition will rise in Ontario after the current two-year freeze ends in 2006.

“I think we’re going to see some kinds of increases, no doubt about it,” McGuinty is quoted as saying. Although he did not back away from the report’s recommendations, saying the question is not whether to proceed but rather how, the premier said keeping fee increases reasonable will require a new partnership between the province, the federal government, the private sector, the institutions and their students.

At $4,960, Ontario has the second-highest undergraduate tuition fees in Canada, just behind Nova Scotia.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • $700 million for improvements and innovation to make the student experience more rewarding and successful;
  • $180 million to expand graduate education;
  • $160 million for new enrolment and outreach;
  • More co-operation and collaboration among institutions;
  • A new Council on Higher Education to set targets for and report publicly on growth in participation and quality improvements; and
  • A funding partnership that ensures sustainable revenues for the sector.

A summary of some reaction to the Rae Report:

Council of Ontario Universities

“The report provides us with a clear pathway to excellence in higher education,” according to Richard Van Loon, chair of the Council of Ontario Universities and President of Carleton University. “Now it’s up to the government – working with universities – to develop a timetable to implement key recommendations, beginning with the 2005 Ontario budget.”

In a news release, Van Loon said the report sets the stage for public policy changes that enhance teaching and research at universities. These factors, he said, are key to the “prosperity and economic competitiveness of our province.”

Canadian Federation of Students

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) was critical of McGuinty’s comment that tuition fees will increase before the recommendations of the Rae Report are implemented, saying students are already “tapped out” and many complete their education with “mortgage-like debts” but no house. CFS Ontario president Jesse Greener said Rae’s call to hold the line on tuition until major changes are made to post-secondary funding and student assistance is disingenuous rhetoric.

“His own funding recommendation ... presupposes that $200 million be generated through tuition fee increases,” Greener said in the Toronto Star. “His proposals for student assistance reforms are intentionally predicated on a tuition fee threshold of $6,000 – at least $1,000 more than today’s undergraduate average.”

Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations

The Rae Report highlights the funding crisis facing universities and colleges in Ontario, members of an educational system that has been “hanging on by its fingernails far too long,” said OCUFA President Michael Doucet. “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.”

Canadian Association of University Teachers

Loretta Czernis, CAUT president, said while the Rae Report points to low levels of public funding, it should have focused on ways to reduce tuition. In a news release, Czernis says the former premier “assumes that tuition fees will have to go up, and go up substantially, 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 financial ability, to pay more and more out of their pockets.”

University of Toronto

The interim president of the University of Toronto called the Rae Report “a balanced and necessary first step” but urged the government to take action quickly.

Frank Iacobucci said the province’s university system “is at a tipping point. It is vital that government respond quickly and positively to Mr. Rae’s recommendations, some of which call for action as early as the 2005 budget.” Iacobucci points to the report itself which says that to leave the system as it is, is to risk “romancing mediocrity”.

A U of T news report said the interim president views the report as thorough and comprehensive but “it is particularly noteworthy that Premier Rae has asked everyone to do their part, including the province, the federal government, students and their families and, of course, the institutions themselves.”

The University of Western Ontario

“Accurate” is how Paul Davenport, Western president, describes both the report’s portrayal of post-secondary education in Ontario and its list of actions necessary to ensure the system’s future.

“We are encouraged by the case that the report puts forward to the government and it is now essential that the funding requests in the report be reflected in multi-year commitments in the provincial budget this spring,” he said in a news release. “Mr. Rae has been emphatic that Ontario stands to lose as a society, as an economic engine of Canada, and as a leader in research and discovery if action isn’t taken soon.”

Davenport also applauded Rae’s call for reforms to student aid programs: “Access to higher education should not be determined by a student’s ability to pay.”

University of Waterloo

Describing the Rae Report’s commitment to ensuring accessibility for qualified students regardless of financial circumstances as a “bold one”, the president of the University of Waterloo added the report “links the development of talented people with Ontario’s prosperity and quality of life”.

David Johnston said his institution looks forward “with interest” to the government response to the report, starting with the 2005 budget.

McMaster University

The president of McMaster University in Hamilton said that despite stiff competition for scarce government resources, Ontario’s post-secondary education system must match the “economic and social aspirations” of the province and the country.

Responding to the Rae Report, Peter George pointed out tuition is just one part of the cost of higher education, and the report’s call for loans that focus on student living costs will help both students and their families.

“Premier McGuinty has made education a priority for Ontario and we are confident that the government will find the resources within the province to give student the opportunity to be the best that they can be ... and to truly make education a cornerstone of Ontario’s future success.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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