Duff Man presents the case for a tuition fee reduction

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Written by Scott Gilbert

All Guelph students pay fees every semester to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), Canada’s largest national student union. CFS represents over half a million college and university students across the country, and have about 90 member locals on their roster, including the Central Student Association (CSA). The CSA invited Joel Duff, a CFS executive, to give a public talk at the University of Guelph Wednesday in the UC courtyard, his talk was about tuition fees in Canada, with a focus on Ontario. Duff spoke for about an hour using a PowerPoint presentation.

The information presented was not new, and is standard from CFS, but the numbers are nevertheless astounding. Some examples (to name only a few) include:

  • Undergraduate tuition in Quebec averages about $2,000 per year, whereas in Ontario it is about $5,000.
  • Ontario tuition fees are the third highest in the country, yet we have the largest student-to-professor ratio in the country.
  • Tuition fees in Ontario have increase 350% in the last 15 years.
  • In 1991 the average student debt in Canada was $8,000. Today it is $26,000.
  • In 1991 tuition accounted for 21% of university operating budgets. Now it’s 50%.
  • Over 82% of Canadians support tuition fee freezes and reductions.
  • In the 1990s tuition increased 6 times the rate of inflation, and is now at about 4 times.

Duff showed graphs, tables and charts showing that over the last decade and a half, every time tuition fees increased, an equal or greater amount of government funding was removed. He rebutted the argument that it is necessary to increase tuition to improve quality. He gave the example of the University of Guelph where we see crumbling buildings, ballooning classes and less teaching assistants. He said: “In fact, we have never seen better quality for more money. Never.” He went on to declare “Ontario is a leader in unaffordable education.”

Some argue that higher tuition fees are not prohibitive because participation (enrollment) has been increasing. Duff said this is “bullshit” because although total numbers are going up it has to do with the double cohourt. He showed that if you look at the percentage of the population going to university, you will see that it is actually less.

Duff strongly criticized Bob Rae for the Rae Review (released last year) and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty for not keeping his promises on tuition. He said that when tuition was increased last year, the government tried to soften the public relations fallout but offering more money in financial aid to students. However, Duff said that in a recent poll, 87% of Canadians felt that this government plan was “irresponsible and will reduce access” to post-secondary education.

He went on to criticize Income Contingent Loan Repayment Schemes (ICLRS). This is a proposed program where students would pay back student debt based on their income after graduation. For instance, if you make $100,000 per year upon graduation you will be required to make larger monthly payment than someone making $25,000 upon graduation. Although it sounds good, the problem is that loans always have interest attached to them. So if two students graduate with the same amount of debt, and one makes a large amount of money upon graduation and another make a small amount, the one with the smaller income will end up paying more money in the end for their education because they will carry the debt for longer and therefore accumulate more interest. ICLRS are not currently being implemented in Canada, but Duff urges students to look out for it because the government keeps bringing up the issue.

Despite all the negative news, Duff did try to end it on a positive note by persuading students with the idea that something can be done. He asked students to participate in the February 7th “National Day of Action For Education” and participate in demonstrations against tuition fees. He said we should look at the successes of the past like the tuition fee freeze of 2004 and 2005, or the massive student strikes in Quebec last year. He suggested that students take what has worked in the past and apply it to the current situation. That tuition fees were frozen because students were organized and the government was forced to take the demands of students seriously.

The organizer of the talk – the CSA’s External Commissioner John Coombs – said that this event was the lead in to a year long campaign by the CSA against tuition fees. He suggested that students look out for the talk on this subject of next semester by Michael Conlon, who will speak on similar issues. Coombs also stressed the February 7th National Day of Action, which he will be heading up.

For more information, you can visit the CFS website or contact the CSA’s External Commisioner John Coombs at

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