Cherise Seucharan, Howl Staff
Several announcements made this year indicate that both the Ontario government and the University of Toronto administration are dumping the responsibility for rising university costs onto students. The most recent of these announcements was last month, when the McGuinty government announced the extension of the 5 per cent tuition fee cap for 2012. This cap, which began in 2006, allows universities and colleges to continue to raise their fees by 5 per cent each year. This rate is greater than inflation, which is 3.1 per cent, and it means that students are seeing tuition rise by hundreds of dollars each September.
This recent announcement was not met silently. The day before the Ontario budget was to be announced, students gathered outside of McGuinty’s Ottawa offices to protest the tuition cap. The group was removed from the premises and eight individuals were arrested for trespassing. However, protests erupted once again on April 5 when members of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario occupied the Toronto offices of MPP Glen Murray. They were also fighting the 5 per cent cap, as well as cuts to scholarship and work-study programs.
The tuition cap announcement is even more controversial in light of the recently implemented rebate program for undergraduates, which returned to university students under 21 a maximum of C$1600 of their tuition fees, while college students were eligible for a C$730 rebate. This rebate was met with much criticism, as only a select portion of students were eligible and left out part-time and mature students, both of which make up a large part of the university population. Government has put a band-aid on the problem of rising debt in the form of the rebate, only to deepen the wound with ever-increasing costs for returning students.
Sean Madden, President of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) responded to the news in a press release, saying, “The government’s recent investment in tuition grants was a step forward in building an accessible and affordable post-secondary education system. However… this investment is going to be quickly eroded if tuition fees continue to increase by five per cent each year.” The press release also mentioned that students have been increasingly responsible for covering university operating costs. Students funded only 19 per cent of costs in the 1980s, but now that figure has soared to almost 50 per cent as of last year.
These events are also significant in light of the recently released “Sunshine List,” which makes public the names of employees of publicly funded organizations who make over C$100 000. Hundreds of University of Toronto professors and administrators made the list, with a considerable number of them taking home over C$300 000 every year. Notables include William Moriarty, president and chief executive officer for the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation – C$650 000; David Naylor, U of T President – C$400 000; and Kent Womack, a professor at the U of T Rotman School of Management – C$560,000.
These numbers are startling when considering the recent bargaining agreement between the university and post-graduate students, in which the students won a hard-fought wage increase of 1.75 per cent. Conversely, there have been claims that the administration had granted themselves raises of up to 6 per cent. While it is important to keep wages competitive in order to attract top professors, the disparity between post-graduates and other university employees raises eyebrows.
Despite government rebates and huge university salaries, these institutions have managed to increase students’ debt load, insisting it is necessary to keep the university running. But with the 5 per cent increase, the loss of many scholarships and grant programs, as well as the continuation of flat fees, it is harder than ever for students to afford to go to school. With very few decision-makers looking out for the needs of students, many will soon be barred from receiving an education altogether due to high expense. This does not bode well for the future of the university, or of Ontario.