By Matt Kwong
Some university and college students could go to school for free, while others could see their tuition fees go up. That is, if Ontario decides to put former premier Bob Rae’s recommendations to action. Students waiting for an overhaul of Ontario’s ailing post-secondary education system will have a chance to see some changes now that Rae released his report, Ontario: A Leader in Learning. “For tens of thousands, tuition costs will in effect be eliminated.
For tens of thousands of others, they will go down. For others, they may go up after 2006-07,” Rae told press at Queen’s Park Monday during the presentation of his report.
The paper proposes that 10 per cent of students living in the lowest-income brackets get free education. At the same time, argues Jesse Greener, Ontario Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, higher-income families would bear the costs of higher tuition to the tune of $6,000. “We think Bob Rae is out of step with this one,” he said.
While the CFS praised Rae for urging the government to boost investment in post-secondary schooling by $1.3 billion, Greener said “once the euphoria of the $1.3 billion wears off, we’ll have to exchange that funding for increasing tuition fees at least 20 per cent.”
Among Rae’s other considerations was for a tuition increase at the end of Ontario’s current two-year freeze. “Even after 2006, increases will be modest,” he assured, adding fees should only go up when the government commits to funding and improving student assistance. “There’s space to maintain a tuition freeze in Ontario,” said Greener. “It would cost only about five or six per cent (of the proposed .3 billion).”
The review also recommends eliminating tuition completely for the 10 per cent of students living in the lowest-income brackets. The establishment of a Council on Higher Education would advise the government on higher-education practices and improve accountability, Rae said. On the subject of income contingent loan repayment (a “study now, pay later” scheme that some feared could saddle students with lifelong debt), Rae said, “I think the whole issue has been overblown.”
Greener was disappointed Rae didn’t scrap the plan altogether: “We thought we managed to talk him off the ledge on that one.” The Ontario University Student Alliance’s president, Alison Forbes, however, felt Rae had taken the advice from concerned students. “He downplayed income contingent loan repayment,” she said. “He’s not putting it high on his priorities.”
Politicians were also on hand to comment on the review. NDP Leader Howard Hampton called the proposed loan repayment a “disaster” and stressed the need to see funds immediately.
“This is not a government that’s strapped for cash. They’re collecting $2.5 billion from the health tax…They’ve got $5 billion in new money,” he said.
Education critic for the Conservative party Laurie Scott said she was generally happy with the recommendations, but she had the same concerns about where funding would come from.
“We knew it was going to come with a big pricetag, so we’re going to see how the government’s going to fund it,” she said.
While Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Mary Anne Chambers referenced past Ontario post-secondary reviews that are “gathering dust,” Rae has been adamant he doesn’t want the report shelved.