CCI pushes for graduated students to stay in Ontario

Graphic by Lena Yang

Graphic by Lena Yang

A new proposal created by the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) has been making waves in the higher education sector, in hopes that students who leave for jobs in countries like the United States will reimburse tax payers for their post-secondary education.

Originally reported in June by The Globe and Mail, those pushing for the proposal are high-tech CEOs and members of the CCI. According to the CCI’s official website, the council hopes to connect Canadian CEOs to public policy leaders to enhance the growth of the country’s innovation-based sector.

CCI’s co-founder and chairman is Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of Research In Motion.

The proposal came from concerns that graduates from Ontario universities are moving to places like Silicon Valley and New York for work, where salaries are higher and companies are able to attract more talent. According to The Globe and Mail, the CCI also believes there should be consequences for Canadian university graduates who leave the country for jobs.

The Ontario government is currently investing $1.3 billion into the Ontario Student Grant, which aims to make tuition more affordable for students.

“In their mind, it’s to payback the province, payback society for the investments that we, as a collective public, have made in their higher education, viewing that we’re putting money into the system to train our future workers so that if they then leave for another jurisdiction, they owe the public some money,” said Zachary Rose, executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance.

On July 25, Rose, along with Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union vice-president of university affairs and OUSA steering committee member, Colin Aitchison, published their response to the proposal on OUSA’s blog.

Rose and Aitchison chose to publish their response as the policy goes against all the work that’s being done to improve financial aid in Ontario, as well as ensuring equitable access to education and that students leave with substantial employment opportunities.

In their mind, it’s to payback the province, payback society for the investments that we as a collective public have made in their higher education.

-Zachary Rose, executive director of OUSA

According to Rose, the proposal goes radically against all the work that has been done by the Ontario government, OUSA and other stakeholder groups to ensure Ontario graduates get equitable access to education and ensuring they get the most out of their education.

“We’ve made some really big improvements and the Ontario Student Grant, as well, was announced last budget, which makes a lot of really targeted investments in financial aid for those with the greatest need to come totally sideways…with a proposal that has nothing in it at all that acknowledges…the necessity of all that work and the importance of [it],” said Rose.

“The fact that all that work has been done, it just seems like a very, very bad idea, very out of the blue with really no connection or no acknowledgment of sort of the reality of the situation.”

According to their post, the CCI’s argument rests on the belief that Ontario graduates have an obligation to the economy.

Aitchison and Rose wrote that this view completely ignores the economic benefits students bring to Ontario during their undergraduate studies and after they graduate.

“Students contribute to local economies as consumers and by attending university they allow institutions to thrive, creating jobs and driving regional economic activity. Also, while CCI points out that Ontario’s tuition is heavily subsidized, these subsidies (quite correctly) focus on students with considerable financial need, who would otherwise not be able to pursue higher education.”

Rose also argues that students are a major economic driver to Canadian universities, rather than a drain on resources.

“Their conclusion that students graduate with a duty to repay the economy and if they leave instead of doing that we should be charging them, it just doesn’t make any sense,” Rose said. “[Students are] serving as kind of ambassadors to respective students who may want to come in and get their education here, to investors who may want to come and invest sectors in our industries.”

In their post, Aitchison and Rose argue that the proposal misses the main motive as to why Canadian graduates are leaving the country – youth unemployment in Ontario is high and some industries may find it difficult to recruit new talent.

I don’t think it would be politically wise to implement such a policy, as it would alienate a large voter base.

-Colin Aitchison, WLU Students’ Union vice-president of university affairs

“Placing a barrier on graduate mobility would simply hinder our students from making the best choices for their own careers. Instead of limiting Ontario’s graduates, we should be looking for options to increase employment rates across our province.”

The CCI is currently hoping to focus more on Ontario’s heavily subsidized tuition.

“We should examine if an Ontario graduate leaves for Silicon Valley, the merits of reclaiming our collective investment in their education and repurposing these funds to make Canadian tech salaries more competitive,” Benjamin Bergen, the executive director of CCI, told The Globe and Mail.

Aitchison and Rose, however, point out how these subsidies mainly focus on students with financial need in post-secondary institutions.

The government also financially assists students in the form of loans, which students later repay.

According to Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, the province has the lowest, per student government funding in the country.

“While it is certainly desirable for Ontario graduates to stay, it is difficult to sympathize with the belief that they have a duty to do so,” read the blog post.

“I think what they probably meant to talk about was the financial assistance thing like [the Ontario Student Assistance Program] and on that front yes, we are quite generous with OSAP here in Ontario, but that’s targeted needfully and rightfully at those with financial need,” said Rose.

The Globe and Mail article reported that Dan Latendre, CEO of Igloo Software, along with nine other CEOs, wrote to Bardish Chagger, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Minister of Small Business and Tourism and Waterloo MP, in April to request a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on how to keep highly skilled graduates in Canada. Since the article was published, there has been no reported response from Trudeau.

The group is now hoping to meet with Ontario’s Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, Deb Matthews.

While the CCI is continuing to push for the proposal, Aitchison believes students shouldn’t be too worried about this coming into effect.

“From my conversations it doesn’t seem like it’s getting much traction so it shouldn’t be an issue to undergraduate students and recent graduates,” said Aitchison.

“I don’t think it would be politically wise to implement such a policy, as it would alienate a large voter base.”

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