Post-secondary education plays a critical role in preparing people for active participation in the social, economic and cultural life of their communities, and in building the highly skilled labour force necessary to compete in today’s knowledge economy.
The GTA is home to four universities: the University of Toronto, York University, and Ryerson University and the Ontario Institute of Technology. We also have six excellent colleges of applied arts and technology: Centennial College, Durham College, George Brown, Humber College, Seneca College and Sheridan College. There are many more excellent post-secondary institutions in the wider region.
Ontario’s post-secondary institutions are doing a good job of preparing young people and adults returning to school for the labour market. The 1998-99 Ontario Graduate Survey showed that, two years after graduation, 97 per cent of graduates were employed and 81 per cent had found work related to their education.
But under-funding is putting a severe strain on our post-secondary institutions and undermining the quality of education their students receive.
Ontario’s colleges currently deliver training to 35,000 more full-time students with $79 million less than they had 10 years ago. Ontario’s universities are not doing any better. Ontario has reduced university funding to the lowest per student level in Canada. Tuition costs have rapidly risen an average of 10 per cent per year over the past decade, imposing significant hardship on Ontario’s students and their families. For 2004, the provincial government has instituted a two year tuition freeze and increased funding to universities to compensate then for revenue they would have had if tuition had been allowed to rise at the projected rate of 2 percent per year.
Financial aid to students is provided by both senior levels of government and in 2004 each made positive changes. The provincial government increased access to student financial aid by reducing parental contribution requirements, updating the definition of an independent student, increasing debt forgiveness and including refugees. The federal government increased federal student loan limits, created new grants for low-income students during their first year and instituted the Canada Learning Bond designed to assist lower-income families in saving for the children’s post-secondary education.
These are progressive steps but more must be done. The province must provide an affordable space for every student in Ontario who is qualified for and seeking post-secondary education.
The opportunity to attend college or university must be affordable and the quality of that education must remain comparable to that in other jurisdictions. This will require a plan to increase provincial funding for colleges and universities to levels commensurate with full accessibility.