October campaign intends to inform students about rising costs
By Gregory McGrath-Goudie, Orillia Bureau Chief
Throughout October 2016, LUSU Orillia will be participating in a Fight the Fees campaign, the goals of which are to educate students on the consequences of increasing tuition fees and student debt, and to give students the inspiration and opportunity to participate in the movement. Given the state of postsecondary funding within Ontario, the student body needs to be an active participant in tuition discussion if it wishes to keep education affordable, accessible, and of a high quality for everyone.
In 2013, the Ontario government placed a cap on tuition increases at 3% per academic year, in an attempt to keep postsecondary education affordable. Despite this restriction, the average university graduate accumulates $26,800 in debt, and the Ontario government pays $42.9 million annually into defaulted student loans, according to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). These payments indicate that graduates are having difficulties paying for their accumulated debt, and that the province of Ontario is yet to properly address the issue. CFS notes that while Ontario’s universities received 75% of their funding from the provincial government in 1994, only 34% of their funding was received by the government in 2014. Such a significant decrease in governmental funding for universities has shifted the financial burden onto Ontario’s students, and that issue is key within the Fight the Fees campaign.
Tuition fees for an undergraduate student in Ontario currently average $7,868 per academic year, but this figure increases drastically for international students, who average $23,868 per academic year. The disparity between domestic and international tuition fees exists because international students are not protected by the 3% tuition increase cap introduced in 2013. Although universities are technically at fault for driving international tuition fees so high, the government is also at fault for reducing the funding universities receive by 41% over 20 years. The resulting scenario is one where universities are forced to find money outside of governmental funding and tuition regulations, which explains why international tuition fees have increased dramatically in price. Despite the institutional need for money, it is unfair to discourage international students from attending university in an allegedly multicultural nation. Still, universities need money, and the government no longer provides as much as it once did.
In 2012, Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges, Training, and Universities announced that Lakehead’s Faculty of Education program would be increased in duration from one academic year to two years, while reducing the funding it will receive by 25%. In Lakehead’s 2016/2017 budget, it is stated that “the threat of grant funding cuts by government for not reaching enrolment targets in the Faculty of Education threatened [to reduce] Lakehead’s budget position by another 3%”. It appears that increasing the duration of the Faculty of Education program, with reduced governmental funding, has had an adverse effect on enrolment. The effects on enrolment, in turn, have had detrimental effects on Lakehead’s operating budget. Essentially, if students are expected to pay perpetually rising tuition fees (which discourages enrolment), and universities are expected to operate with less governmental funding (which may be caused by decreased enrolment), then both universities and students suffer as a result. Governmental solutions, such as placing a 3% annual cap on tuition increase, are inadequate if universities are unable function properly within them.
Considering that students are unable to pay increasing tuition fees, and that universities struggle to operate without increasing them, participating in the Fight the Fees campaign is a productive way to give the student voice political agency and to begin enacting positive change. Under the current model, the rate at which tuition increases annually (3%) surpasses the 1.61% national inflation rate in Canada, which means that students who currently have difficulty affording postsecondary education will experience compounding difficulties in years to come. Without participating in discussions about tuition fees or about funding to postsecondary institutions, the current model of managing postsecondary students will descend further into inequity. If you are interested in participating in the campaign or would like to learn more, feel free to email either firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.