2019 Provincial budget: implications for the equitable administration of post-secondary education

by Anisa Jama

Unpacking Equity is a collaboration between the Public Policy and Governance Review and the Gender, Diversity and Public Policy Initiative (GDPP) at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. This series aims to explain equity-related policy issues and break down complicated topics involving equity, diversity and inclusion. Policy professionals can gain a better understanding of these complex issues in order to incorporate an equity lens into their practice. To learn more, please get in touch with the GDPP.

What the 2019 Provincial budget means for the equitable administration of post-secondary education?

In 2019, the Ford government released its provincial budget which included significant changes to tuition funding for post-secondary students. It introduced an OSAP funding structure that translates to more loans and fewer grants while also capping the annual cost of tuition at a 10% reduction. Regrettably, this has also effectively eliminated the Liberal government’s previously implemented free tuition policy for low-income students.

Who is affected most by these changes?

The negative consequences of this policy are undoubtedly felt most by marginalized students from low-income households. By cutting tuition to the tune of over $670 million dollars and forcing them to take on more loans in place of grants, such students are left scrambling to find ways to offset the burden of repaying interest accruing loans. Often this entails securing low-paying, precarious work while also attending school full-time. This certainly creates an inequitable dynamic whereby marginalized students are forced to make the decision to either continue pursuing their degree, put a pause on their educational endeavors, or drop out entirely. Students who face barriers to employment including those that are racialized, women, differently abled and/or part of other minority groups may be more likely to rely on funding to complete their schooling. However, these provincial cuts put these students in a position where they are forced to sacrifice either their mental and physical wellbeing, their performance in school or earning an income to pay for their education.

Likewise, the Ford government has also slashed the six-month grace period for students upon graduating. This was originally intended to assist students by permitting them to search and secure employment in their respective fields before being required to make payments. Eliminating this policy leads students to seek out jobs that they are over-qualified for in order to find employment within the allotted time frame. This acts as another factor deterring students from pursuing post-secondary education and in turn, prevents young people from gaining high-earning careers. The lack of investment in post-secondary education and production in future skilled labour will only hurt Canada’s economy in the long run.

Does this policy only impact domestic students?

The new tuition funding model doesn’t only affect domestic students. Disappointingly, international students are also largely impacted by these changes. They are already subjected to the highest tuition fees in the country and incur the least amount of provincial funding support. In the long run, these cuts may serve to further exploit such students by promoting increased charging from post-secondary schools to offset the financial loss to their institutions. In turn, this may deter international students from choosing to study in Ontario for fear of being subjected to deregulated fees and will ultimately prevent them from gaining a socially enriching educational experience.

The new ancillary framework hurts students

Along with the cuts to funding, the provincial government has also introduced the Student Choice Initiative which established a new ancillary framework. Under this framework, students would have the choice to opt-out of supporting campus programs and extra-curriculars. This includes student clubs as well as the number of on-campus employment positions that were previously made available to students. Most strikingly, however, is the negative impact this will have on student support services. This loss of funding will affect the programs intended to support student led initiatives which promote equity and diversity through workshops and panels, along with those that support students with invisible disabilities. Students with mental health challenges or survivors of gender-based violence may rely on campus support networks to assist them in their rehabilitation process. Finally, student unions which among other things, serve to advocate on behalf of students will also endure these losses.

What this means for post-secondary institutions?

Ontario post-secondary institutions will have an overall budget shortfall of nearly $440 million. The University of Toronto alone is projected to lose $88 million in one year. This will likely lead these institutions to find other means of balancing their budgets. For instance, it is probable that there will be an annual increase in the cost of tuition post freeze in order to generate revenue. The quality of education will also diminish as faculty may have to work longer hours and class sizes may increase. There is also the potential for full-time faculty to be replaced or required to switch to part-time positions, creating a less equitable employment structure. Thus, the conservative cuts to post-secondary education harms more than just students. In the broader scope, it will undoubtedly damage the future of Ontario’s economy and labour force by barring many from seeking higher education and obtaining a decent standard of living.

Anisa Jama is a 2021 Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. She has earned a B.A. with Honours in Criminology and Human Rights and Equity Studies. She has a keen interest in socio-legal policy with an emphasis on policies related to criminal justice, anti-poverty, education and human rights.

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