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Now’s not the time for a tuition increase, Ford says

But his staff quickly clarified that the government is actually still considering lifting the tuition freeze
Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends a press conference at the York Regional Police Headquarters in Aurora, Ont., Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024.

Ontario’s post-secondary institutions are looking for a financial lifeline, but Premier Doug Ford made clear he’s not a fan of one part of the solution recommended by a provincially-appointed expert panel.  

On Wednesday, Ford said he’s not in favour of a tuition increase, but his staff clarified soon afterwards that his government is still exploring it as a way to help the sector. 

“I just don't believe this is a time to go into the students' pockets, especially the ones that are really struggling, and ask for a tuition increase,” Ford said during an unrelated press conference in Aurora. 

“We're going to work with our colleges and universities to support them any way we can and drive efficiencies throughout the system,” he added. 

According to government officials, however, no final decisions have been made. After Ford's remarks, the premier’s office said that tuition increases and additional funding for the post-secondary sector are still on the table.

When the federal government announced it would cap international student visas to help cool rental market demand, the province said it would wait until the end of February to figure out if and how it would help the sector.  

The end of February is when the province would have to set tuition rates for them to apply for the next school year. Any changes past that wouldn’t apply till 2025. 

The provincial Tories appointed an expert panel to come up with ideas on how to get schools in Ontario on a sound financial footing. 

The panel made scores of recommendations. The most consequential include unfreezing tuition and boosting provincial funding. 

The government has been tight-lipped about which recommendations it’ll move on since the report came out. 

At the time, Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop said she was “carefully reviewing” the recommendations. 

“Before agreeing to any tuition increases, however, we need to ensure that colleges and universities are taking the necessary steps to ensure that they are operating as efficiently as possible,” Dunlop said, adding that she wants to work with the sector to “create greater efficiencies.” 

Ontario’s post-secondary schools have fallen on tough times, thanks to stagnant provincial funding and a 2019 move to cut domestic tuition by 10 per cent and freeze it there. 

In 2021-22, Ontario’s per student college funding was just under $7,000 — less than half of what other provinces provide. Universities received over $11,000 per student, 57 per cent of the national average. 

Schools have largely turned to international students, who pay significantly more to attend compared to Canadian students, to fill the gap. International enrolment skyrocketed — going from 300,000 in 2013 to 900,000 last year — putting pressure on the rental market. It also led to allegations of student exploitation. 

Last week, the federal government announced it would cut the number of new study permits issued by 35 per cent from last year’s level, bringing this year’s total to 364,000, and stop giving work permits to some students. 

The permits will be doled out based on provincial population, resulting in a 50 per cent decrease for Ontario. It’s up to the provinces to figure out how to allocate them to individual schools. 

Following the federal government’s announcement, institutions have raised concerns about the possible effects of the policy. 

The Council of Ontario Universities said the cap could have “unintended consequences for the sector and for international students” and that their finances "were already at a breaking point."

The council also said the federal government should “take the time to target those who do not provide supports to students,” something federal ministers acknowledged. 

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller likened some schools to "puppy mills,” saying some are offering "sham commerce degrees" in office space above massage parlours. 

On Wednesday, Ford said his government is aware that there are “bad actors on the private side of colleges,” but denied that his government was “dropping the ball” on this issue. 

“Isn't it great that 415,000 students around the world call Ontario a place of home temporarily? What I would have liked to see, these kids graduate, stay here, we were short 360,000 people to fill the jobs,” he said. “But do we need to look at it and clean that up? I agree, 100 per cent, we need to look at it and we will clean it up.”

Meanwhile, some college presidents are warning that the federal government's plan to stop granting post-graduation work permits to those who study through public-private college partnership programs will endanger these collaborations.

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