by Richard Maerov
The Ontario government’s promise to make post-secondary education more accessible continues to fall short, say student representatives.
Premier Dalton McGuinty’s speech from the throne last week reiterated a commitment to provide more financial assistance to some post-secondary students, but did not address tuition fees, which are set to increase again next year after a two-year freeze.
Delivered by Lt.-Gov. James Barleman, the traditional speech opened the new session of the Provincial Legislature and outlined the agenda of the government for the next two years.
Barleman said the government’s investment of $6.2 billion into post-secondary education over the next five years is “one of the most ambitious economic initiatives ever in (Ontario).”
According to the government, this investment means 135,000 families will get financial assistance they would not otherwise have received and 32,000 students will receive grants instead of loans, “the first time this has happened in over a decade,” said Barleman.
But Jesse Greener, Ontario chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, said the targeted government financial aid only helps a narrow group of students.
“Only around seven per cent of the overall Ontario student population will benefit from government grants,” he said. “Everyone else will be hit hard with increased tuition fees and student loan debts.”
High fees are causing students to take longer to complete their degrees and are contributing to both a rise in dropout rates and a decline in graduate program enrolment.
Also announced in the throne speech was the establishment of the “First Generation Plan,” intended to help students who are the first in their family to seek a post-secondary education. Greener said this declaration was simply “intended to play well with the media” and will not necessarily translate into any new investment.
Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy, who attended the speech, applauded the government’s level of support.
“In May, the government announced one of the largest investments in the post-secondary system in Ontario in a very long time,” he said.
“This will go a long way towards providing the kind of quality education our students — and our province — need to succeed.”
McGuinty has said that he wishes he could keep the tuition freeze in place but couldn’t because it wasn’t financially feasible. He has recently pleaded the federal government, along with Quebec Premier Jean Charest, to give more money to the provinces for post-secondary education.
The federal Liberals will unveil a tuition relief package later this month, but there is no sign this will be allocated directly to the provinces for tuition reduction. The NDP had added $1.5 billion to last April’s budget specifically for this purpose.
The CFS launched a new campaign with Quebec student associations last week to pressure the federal government to dedicated more money to post-secondary education.
Greener thinks if Ontario can get some of this money, it will help the McGuinty government reinstate the tuition freeze or even reduce fees.
The RSU continued their lobbying campaign this week, getting students to flood McGuinty’s office with faxes and postcards urging the premier to reconsider his decision to end the tuition freeze.