While the provincial government announced last week it would cap tuition hikes over the next four years at 3 per cent, all sides agree there’s work to be done still.
Alysha Li, vice-president of University Affairs for Western’s University Students’ Council (USC) and president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), said students are happy the government didn’t proceed with the initial framework of a 5 per cent tuition increase. And while the USC and student body are happy to see an end to deferral fees for students with financial assistance, the hope was the government would choose also to implement an increase freeze, Li said.
“We are pleased the government didn’t extend the original framework. We acknowledge this is progress, but Western students and OUSA had asked for a minimum of a one-year freeze,” she continued. “The increase should be no more than inflation as measured by CPI (consumer price index). We are disappointed the government didn’t take our recommendation on that but, we are happy to see the government took students’ advice and pleased the 5 per cent won’t be sustained.”
At 3 per cent, the tuition fee increase rate is one percentage point above the average inflation rate in Ontario over the last decade.
Brad Dugid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, announced last week the provincial government would not be adhering to a framework that would have allowed postsecondary institutions to increase tuition by an average of 5 per cent each year.
“This new tuition policy strikes a balance. We are increasing fairness and affordability for students and their families while providing institutions with the long-term financial stability needed to provide a high-quality education for our students,” Dugid said. “We will also continue to ensure that students have access to higher education based on ability to learn, not ability to pay.”
In addition to lowering a tuition fee increase by 2 per cent, the provincial government also promised to introduce an improved approach to deferral fees by working to better align the timing of the Ontario Student Assistance Program and tuition payment deadlines.
Previously, some students receiving financial assistance were required to pay a deferral fee, as they could receive funding after a tuition payment deadline.
Tuition accounts for half of all revenue Ontario universities receive. The province’s universities currently receive the lowest grant funding in Canada.
“We appreciate Minister Duguid’s attempt to strike a balance between affordability for students with the revenue needs of universities to maintain programs and supports for students,” said Janice Deakin, Western’s provost and vice-president (academic). “Despite the dual fiscal challenges of a reduced tuition cap and previous cuts to operational budgets, Western is determined to protect the quality of its students’ learning experience.”
The 3 per cent cap on a tuition fee increase doesn’t apply to professional and graduate programs.
“That 3 per cent is progress, but again, Western students will continue to work to push the government, along with OUSA, to continue to make tuition as a whole more affordable for students,” Li added.
“In the next few months and next year, we are looking forward to working with the government, student unions and student government to push the end of deferral frees and flat fee practices. We’ve heard strongly from our students to look at how, and what, we charge students and to make that more affordable and fair.”