By Jessie Stones
The provincial government may allow private American universities to set up shop in Ontario—and observers say it’s the beginning of the end for public education in the province.
It’s widely rumoured among education experts that the University of Phoenix may be invited to establish a campus in Ontario. More than 67,000 students are currently enrolled in the university in 15 different states, and more than 10,000 students take its on-line courses.
Carrie Delaney, communications advisor for Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, said allowing foreign, private universities into Ontario is a possibility.
“But private means private,” Delaney said. “They will not receive any public funding.”
Joanne Naiman, vice-president of the Ryerson Faculty Association, said there is a lot of fear among faculty that American universities coming to Ontario will be the first step toward privatizing postsecondary institutions.
“We should be worried for the quality of education, for tuition fees,” she said. “What should be a social necessity is increasingly becoming for-profit.”
NDP education critic Rosario Marchese said private universities have billions of dollars in revenue potential—and Americans know it. “That’s why they want to come here,” he said.
Naiman speculates on-line universalities are more viable to import to Ontario than physical campuses. But whether they’re electronic or mortar and brick, Canadians would still pay tuition to American schools.
Delaney said American universities would compete with Canadian institutions. Although the government said private institutions wouldn’t receive government funding, education critics say private schools would eventually drain public funds.
Marches said private schools would inevitably push for government tax breaks on buildings research grants and loans. He’s concerned the public system would become impoverished with an influx of private schools.
“Education is already underfunded,” he said. “It can only get worse.”
Stacy Churchill, a comparative education policy professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said if private universities invade Ontario, the province is headed toward the American, two-tiered, money-driven model.
“The quality of education available will be based on ability to pay,” he said.
But Liberal education critic Marie Bountrogianni said legislation must be amended before American private schools can enter the province.
American universities cannot grant degrees in Canada, Marchese said, and that may have prevented previous intrusions. “It would require government approval and legislative changes.”