Rae Rolls Out The Red Carpet for Tuition Hikes

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

  • "It appears as though the former Premier has shed his NDP orange for bright Liberal red"

    "It appears as though the former Premier has shed his NDP orange for bright Liberal red"

Written by Kyle Lambert

Students from high-income homes should be as pleased as university presidents are with Bob Rae’s report on post-secondary education in Ontario. Former NDP Premier Rae released his long-awaited report on February 8 to Queen’s Park.

It appears as though the former Premier has shed his NDP orange for bright Liberal red, at least that appears to be the case given the help-the-wealthy proposal that is masquerades as an effort to provide greater university access to low-income students.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not accusing Bob Rae of misleading the public with his report, I am simply of the belief that his thinking is severely misguided. The proposal to increase funding to universities and colleges by $1.3-billion is meant to allow those same institutions to raise tuitions fees basically as they see fit, once the freeze on hikes is lifted in September 2006, while at the same time guaranteeing that schools will provide many more grants and scholarships to would-be students. The province is also expected to overhaul the financial assistance program, paving the way for increased loan ceilings and supposed better access for low-income students.

Rae’s logic appears to me to have a few major flaws. First, greater access to loans for low-income students may allow them to attend university, but it will increase their debt burden once graduated, leading to a less prosperous life and harming the economy in turn. While I don’t pretend to be an expert on the matter, this solution seems to be a stop-gap, an easy way out when no other idea could be brought forth at the time. The government and Mr. Rae owe it to Ontario’s low income students to find a better solution.

One floated idea, something in which Mr. Rae may put a lot of faith but something that was likely left out of the report for political reasons, is adopted a system such as those employed by Australia and England. The system, often called “Go now, pay later” allows students to attend university for free, but repay tuition fees once graduated based on increments determined by their post-graduation salary. This system has its flaws, such as the large amount of capital funding required to get it started, but it is worth a deeper look.

A second problem with the Rae report is a result of the proposal to allow tuition hikes. Rae essentially recommends the use of a grant system to make up for what are likely to be hugely increased costs of attending college or university.

However, without a strict regulation of such a grant system, post-secondary institutions are likely to use such grants to better their own reputations, not to help low and middle-income students attend post-secondary classes. While some universities will likely keep tuition fees low (or at least at their current rates), more prestigious schools or those trying to become prestigious will most certainly raise costs to the point where mostly affluent students are attending their classes. Sure, some grants will help out lower and middle income students and the loan system will allow low-income students to pick and choose a little easier, but I seriously doubt the desire of Western and Queen’s to seek out more low-income students. Their goal is reputation, even if it means spending grant money on students that can already afford to pay for their tuition. It is a sad state of affairs when many scholarships are given to students whose parents can easily afford to send them away to school, something I have seen up close in my four years at the University of Ottawa. Rae’s proposal will only exacerbate the problem. The likelihood is the development of a tiered university system such as that in the United States. How many low income students go to Harvard or Yale?

The Rae report does deserve some credit. Its focus on shortening the skilled labour shortage and reducing university and college class sizes is necessary and smart. In fairness, the report also recommends the creation of an arms-length provincial government agency to oversee and possibly regulate tuition rises and grant allotment.

However, those proposals are not nearly enough to make up for the flawed logic of the Rae report. Not many low and middle income students are lucky enough to attend top universities in the United States. Unfortunately, a report that prides itself on improving access to post-secondary education may soon merit a follow-up and this question: How many low and middle-income students attend the University of Toronto or Queen’s?


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