What a boring document means to you

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By Douglas Cudmore

The release of the Report of the Advisory Panel on Future Directions for Postsecondary Education (the White Paper) couldn’t have come at a better time. Never heard of it? That’s exactly my point.

The document, created by a five-member group appointed by the Ontario Conservatives, was presented to the public on Dec. 16, a time when most students are more concerned with getting home for drinks than thinking about the future of higher learning. This assumes that in September students are more interested in the future of higher learning than getting home for drinks.

I can’t slam the White Paper’s authors for blatant Tory partisanism. There are a few good things in their list of 18 recommendations on the future of higher education in Ontario.

The group wants to promote better links between colleges and universities. And they would like the government to stop cutting university funding. Which is like stopping the amputation while the patient has one leg — Ontario is the tenth-ranked province in the university operating grants per capita.

But, much like their prose, the panel’s suggestions are more bad than good.

Recommendation 8 says that “an institution should be free to set tuition fees at whatever level it regards as appropriate, program by program” up to an undetermined “government-specified upper limit.” The panel suggests that programs that will lead to higher-paying jobs, particularly professional ones, should charge more than programs that lead to part-time telemarketing work.

There are two problems with this — one obvious, one not. The most obvious one goes first.

Imagine this — as a professional program, a business school doubles its tuition fees. First off, send broke students who don’t qualify for OSAP back to a three-year English degree, because they can’t afford six to seven grand a year. But say you do qualify for a loan. Are you going to ring up $40,000 in debt instead of $20,000 to get your degree? Probably not. So who’s left at business school? Those that can afford it in the first place, who in turn will get good MBA jobs, earn well, send their kids off to business school. Couples with our recent tax cut, we could stretch Ontario’s rich-poor void across Montana in no time.

Less obviously, if schools can wring more cash out of professional programs than ones that lead to smaller paycheques, guess which courses are likely to shut down during our eternal downsize. We could watch a strangulation of philosophy, English and fine arts.

But such complaints likely won’t register. In fact, the very problems with the White Paper (increasing personal debt, elitism, the growing gap between rich and poor) seem to be key components of the Common Sense Revolution. It makes you want to go back home for drinks.

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