White Paper puts students in the red

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By Aaron Sands

Ryerson’s tuition fees will soar under a plan to privatize Ontario universities, RyeSAC PResident Victoria Bowman says.

The $250,000 White Paper, written by a five-member government-appointed crew, proposes to deregulate universities and colleges, giving schools complete control over tuition and fees.

The report recommends “an institution should be free to set tuition fees at whatever level it regards as appropriate.”

“This is terrifying,” says Bowman. “A private university system means people won’t be able to go, or only a very select group of people will be able to go.”

The 87-page report was released Dec. 16. It calls for “differentiation among institutions, less regulation with clearer lines of accountability, and a commitment to bring financial support more in line with other provinces.” Ontario currently ranks last in provincial government contributions to universities.

Panel chair David Smith, principal emeritus of Queen’s University, says the report was designed to eliminate barriers to higher education. “Students with the ability and interest should not be barred from attending universities and colleges,” says Smith.

But Bowman is not impressed. “It’s very apparent this report was well intended to decrease the accessibility for students,” she says.

A polytechnic school like Ryerson will be drastically affected by the report, Bowman says. Changing technology will mean tremendous increases in fees. “Ryerson students are already paying a huge amount of the actual cost of their education,” she says.

Smith says cries of skyrocketing tuition fees are hogwash. “If deregulation comes in, our view is it will not make a very substantial difference in fees.”

The White Paper may even lower the price of some programs, Smith argues. “Look at what’s been happening recently in Ontario. Fees have gone up 40 per cent in the last three years. With more freedom, universities would look very closely at whether the costs are higher than they need to be. I think the focus will very much shift to reducing costs to prevent fees from having to rise.”

Bowman says it is in the administration’s best interest to support the paper because schools are struggling to find money.

“This can only go in one direction, which is rapidly, rapidly escalating tuition costs for students,” says Bowman.

Ryerson President Claude Lajeunesse shrugs off Bowman’s concerns about student fees, saying the report would have “minimum impact on Ryerson.”

“I think it’s a great report, very positive,” Lajeunesse says.

If deregulation is implemented, Ryerson’s Board of Governors will be in charge of setting the costs of education. “The board will vote on a proposal made by the university, taking into account the needs of the institution,” says Lajeunesse.

While the report was intended to help students, Smith says he understands the opposition voices by student groups. “I guess I can appreciate that any change means some uncertainty,” says Smith.

But Lajeunesse says times are changing, and he’s all for it. “Taken as a whole, these recommendations are very valid. This report will lead to change and I support that.”

 

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