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The Progressive Economics Forum

McGuinty Proposes Undergraduate Tuition Grant

An Ontario election is slated for October 6, and the reigning Liberal Party will attempt to pull off a third consecutive majority government. In that vein, the Liberals have recently made a slew of campaign promises in the post-secondary education (PSE) sector. Notably, they’ve committed to reducing undergraduate tuition for “middle-class Ontario families” by 30 percent, amounting to “$1600 per student in university and $730 per student in college.”

According to a September 5 Toronto Star article:

“The tuition break would be available only to students from families with a gross household income of $160,000 or less a year — about 86 per cent of the 360,000 students currently enrolled — and would take effect Jan. 1.”

Given that the platform itself does not fullly explain the proposal, this morning I spoke on the telephone with the Hon. John Milloy,  Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. While it’s true that many of the details have yet to be worked out, he explained to me the following about the tuition-grant proposal:

-The grants would be paid directly to universities and colleges, who in turn would be required to pass the savings on to students. (I had heard prior to our conversation that some senior university administrators feared that universities and colleges would have to come up with this money themselves, but he assured me that there is not basis to that rumour).

-The focus is on undergraduate students leaving high school. Details have yet to be worked out as to whether part-time students would also be eligible.

-International students would not be eligible, nor would graduate students.

-This would be a permanent program (i.e. it would not be time-limited).

I believe that the tuition-grant proposal is worth paying attention to, in part because results of recent opinion polling suggest the Liberals are indeed the party to beat, and may indeed win their third consecutive majority.

If nothing else, the tuition-grant proposal is indicative of the fact that the Liberals are making PSE affordability one of their highest priorities during the present campaign. It is expected to cost $423 million once fully implemented, representing almost one-third of all new spending proposed in the Liberal platform.

The proposal is all the more telling in light of the fact that many pundits believe that, no matter which party forms the next government, substantial spending cuts are imminent. Indeed, Tom Walkom has recently argued that it is very highly likely that significant cuts to health care will take place in Ontario (irrespective of who forms a government) even though no party has thus far been willing to fully explain how it would bring about such cuts.

I asked Mr. Milloy how the Liberals could propose such an expensive commitment in light of the challenging fiscal times that lie ahead. He said that it’s precisely because of that context that the Liberals have proposed a total of just $1.5 billion in new spending.

I consider the Liberals’ tuition-grant proposal to be the second-most astonishing development in Ontario’s PSE sector over the past decade. The only development I’ve found more astonishing has been the actual track record on PSE affordability of a leader who refers to himself as “the education premier.” As I’ve written about here, tuition fees in Ontario have become the highest in Canada, but were only fourth-highest when Mr. McGuinty took power in 2003. What’s more, Ontario is now in last place nationally in terms of per-student PSE funding.

Last December, I wrote an opinion piece that was highly critical of the Liberals’ handling of PSE affordability. I suggested that if Minister Milloy cannot improve PSE affordability, then perhaps a new Minister should. This morning, I may have spoken to that new Minister.

UPDATE (6 Nov 2011): The following Toronto Star article contains a few more details about the plan.

UPDATE (17 Nov 2011): A Toronto Star article confirms that the McGuinty government plans to implement the grant as of January 2011.

UPDATE (7 Jan 2012): Detailed information on the grant is available here.

UPDATE (10 Jan 2012): The Canadian Federation of Students has prepared a briefing note on the grant.

Enjoy and share:

Comments

Comment from Eric
Time: September 14, 2011, 1:08 pm

Nick, I think that you need to do some reading between the lines on this one, ask a few more probing questions. For instance, why is it that the Liberals would not just to lower tuition fees? In fact the Libs have indicated that tuition-fees would be allowed to continue to rise. Ooh and they also announced the opening of new, undergraduate teaching only, three year degree (yes, they’re bringing it back!), satellite campuses. There is a forest for these trees Nick, and the Lib’s are counting on us counting some eggs, long before they hatch…This is no about-face for the Libs, it is a strategy to deregulate tuition-fees, and allow greater “differentiation” (read “tiering”) within the sector. I don’t know that affordable degree mills coupled with unaffordable research intensive uni’s are an answer, but if progressive economists don’t watch carefully that’s what we’re gonna get. This is neo-liberal public policy by stealth – a voucher system if ever there was one. I’ve written a lengthier blogpost on this here: http://www.rppe.wordpress.com

Comment from Nick Falvo
Time: September 14, 2011, 1:39 pm

Thank you, Eric. I didn’t realize that the new campuses were “teaching only, three year degrees.”

I’ll read your blost post right now. In the meantime, if you have additional info on those three new campuses, please send it my way.

I’m quite nervous about the entire Academic Transformation model, which, as you know, advocates in favour of some institutions focusing exclusively on teaching, and which encourages more three-year degrees. I’ve blogged about that approach here: http://www.progressive-economics.ca/2011/03/31/reforming-ontarios-universities/

Comment from Purple Library Guy
Time: September 14, 2011, 4:31 pm

All this careful questioning ignores the most likely explanation dealing with this policy proposal, its expense, ramifications, complications of delivery etc.:

They’re lying. It’s a campaign promise they have no intention of keeping, thus no need to worry about the difficulties of carrying it out.

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