Provincial budget supports education

Students in the post-secondary education system were deemed a priority among the issues focused on by the Ontario government in preparing their budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

“In a year that a lot of budgets were being cut … we do recognize and we are really appreciative that the Ontario government didn’t cut into post-secondary education,” said Kory Preston, Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union vice-president of university affairs.

Under the five-year plan called Open Ontario that was revealed during the speech from the throne on March 8, the province’s goal is to pull the economy out of the recession by focusing on job creation.

Focus on education

With plans to improve the economy, the budget released on March 25 included investments in health care, green energy and post-secondary education.

“One of the common themes has been that we would like to increase the number of Ontarians that have a post-secondary credential to 70 per cent,” explain John Milloy, minister of training, colleges and universities, during a media teleconference.

As the province moves towards a knowledge-based economy, 70 per cent of new jobs are projected to require post-secondary credentials.

In the budget, the government announced they would invest $310 million to support the projected 20,000 new students entering the system this fall.

“This funding is really going to the operating budgets of the universities to cover the increased enrolment that’s coming in,” said Preston.

Although these investments announced at the budget presentation exhibit mainly short-term aid, more long-term solutions for the post-secondary sector were announced on March 28.
OSAP reform

The provincial government also brought forward reforms to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to increase funds available.

“The announcement we made today is very much based on the discussion that we’ve had with student organizations and student representatives over the past year,” said Milloy, clarifying the reason the particular changes were made.

The changes will double the income a student can earn during the school year, raise the maximum loan to $12,240 for a two-term academic year and implement a six-month interest-free grace period after graduation on the loan.

“These changes are going to mean a lot to students in terms of borrowing more from the government and … also being supported in repaying their loans,” said Dan Moulton, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Students Alliance (OUSA).

In addition to the reforms, the government extended the cap on tuition fees initially implemented three years ago for another two years.

“What’s important to recognize here is that the government has frozen the tuition framework for another two years going to give them a chance to reflect on the current state of affairs and some of the areas that may need to head in to in the next [five] years,” said Moulton.

The cap is set at a maximum of five per cent per year that any post-secondary institution can raise their tuition.

The effect of this cap is apparent in the fact that Wilfrid Laurier University is only raising tuition 4.4 per cent this fall.

“We’re also going to be working with the institutions themselves and ask that they will be required to contribute to a portion of additional tuition revenue of 10 per cent for on-campus bursaries and student assistance programs for strengthening the student access guarantee program,” added Milloy.

While the investment represents improvements made to the accessibility of education, there are still other areas that need to be assessed for the sector in the long-term.

“The government needs to think through what quality means … and what are the next steps to take in the coming years,” said Moulton.

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