Calls to up tuition and boost provincial funds welcomed by Hamilton’s McMaster University

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Published November 21, 2023 at 12:10 pm

McMaster University “welcomes” calls to unfreeze tuition costs, which would allow them to charge students more per year, amid an ongoing financial crunch in Ontario post-secondary schools.

The province established a blue-ribbon panel of experts to find ways to keep Ontario’s colleges and universities financially sustainable. The move was sparked after Sudbury’s Laurentian University filed for protection from creditors in February 2021.

This unprecedented crisis led to the elimination of 69 undergraduate and graduate programs and the termination of 195 faculty and staff with little notice or severance. The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) laid the blame directly at the feet of Premier Doug Ford and his government.

“The Ford government’s obsession with austerity and privatization was a major driver of Laurentian University’s insolvency and collapse,” they said, “This regressive approach to public services extends to Ontario’s postsecondary institutions, where increasingly corporatized governance structures serve interests that conflict with the central mission of the province’s universities.”

“Instead of focusing on high-quality education and generating new knowledge, universities are being twisted into institutions that exploit precariously employed contract faculty to train students for only short-term career prospects.”

As well as recommendeding the end of the tuition freeze, the panel reccomended additonal supports from the Ontario government. The report was directed to Minister of Colleges
and Universities and Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop. Ontario features 24 colleges, 23 universities and nine Indigenous Institutes.

The report found these instiutions have been strugling since the 2017 Strategic Mandate Agreement between the schools and the ministry. “The number of funded domestic students a college or university could admit was fixed as was the funding per student,” the panel explained.

The problems were exacerbated by a 10 per cent tuition cut per student in 2019. “As time goes on, this situation is ever more likely to pose a significant threat to thefinancial sustainability of a major part of the province’s postsecondary sector,” they wrote.

Ontario offers little financial support to students compared to the rest of Canada. The national average annual supports for college students is slightly more than $15,000 and around $27,000 for university students. In Ontario these average supports were found to be much lower at about $6,800 for college (44 per cent of the national average) and around $11,400 for university (57 per cent).

“As a consequence of the low level of provincial funding, colleges are increasingly reliant on international students’ tuition fees to remain financially sustainable,” the panel found. Additionally, their audit concluded, “colleges finances are consolidated on the province’s financial statements, the associated risk from a reliance on international students is also borne by the province.

The blue-ribbon panels full list of recommendations is available online. They include “ending the tuition freeze by implementing a three-year tuition fee framework, and increasing operating funds to the sector by immediately boosting operating grants by 10% and indexing them over time.”

McMaster noted the significant issues posed by the province’s under-funding of university students noting they have 3,200 under-funded students in their STEM and Health Sciences programs.  “Without additional government funding and an end to the tuition freeze, the programs and services Ontario’s students rely on and deserve are at risk.”

McMaster “appreciates the report’s recognition of the serious financial sustainability issues within this sector,” and is “hopeful the government will move forward quickly in implementing the recommendations. The university is grateful for the provincial blueprint for action and looks forward to ongoing engagement with the province to advance toward financial sustainability.”

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