Ontario’s tuition freeze and the future of higher education: in-depth analysis

The panel proposed a multiyear tuition framework with a 5 percent increase for the academic year 2024-2025, followed by annual raises aligned with inflation rates.

Share the post
Photo via Pixabay

The Ontario government’s four-year domestic tuition freeze, intended to make education more affordable, is now under scrutiny. A blue-ribbon panel, commissioned in response to the financial turmoil faced by Laurentian University in 2021, has called for an overhaul of the tuition framework. This move comes amid growing financial pressures in the higher education sector.

The panel, led by former university administrator Alan Harrison, proposed a multiyear tuition framework with a 5 percent increase for the academic year 2024-2025, followed by annual raises aligned with inflation rates. This recommendation applies to both universities and colleges, with additional provisions for professional and high-demand programs.

Simultaneously, the panel recommended a 10 percent one-time increase in the per-student operating grant, ensuring subsequent yearly tuition hikes of at least at the rate of inflation. These measures aim to address the financial sustainability concerns in the sector, highlighted by the report’s finding that Ontario colleges receive significantly lower per-student funding compared to the national average.

It equally stated that the sector’s reliance on international students “needs to be recognized explicitly as a financial risk and incorporated into analyses of institutions’ sustainability.”

Government response

Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop has indicated that the government is deliberating over the panel’s recommendations. However, any approval of tuition hikes is contingent upon colleges and universities demonstrating operational efficiencies.

“Before agreeing to any tuition increases, however, we need to ensure that colleges and universities are taking the necessary steps to ensure that they are operating as efficiently as possible,”  Dunlop said.

The Council of Ontario Universities (COU) has reported financial strains, with deficits in multiple universities. The situation is critical, as the sector’s financial strength increasingly relies on international student fees, which the panel report identifies as a financial risk.

“This will go a long way to addressing the financial strength of the sector,” he said.

COU President Steve Orsini emphasized that the higher education sector is currently facing a pivotal moment. He urged the government to swiftly implement the recommendations the panel put forth.

The student perspective

Students, represented by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, expressed openness to increased institutional grants but stressed the need for corresponding hikes in student assistance programs.

The study revealed that funding per student at Ontario colleges is only 44 percent of what other Canadian colleges receive. Ontario university students receive only 57 percent compared to their counterparts in the rest of Canada.

Vivian Chiem, leader of the alliance, acknowledged that students would appreciate an increase in operational grants for institutions. However, she emphasized that if tuition rises, there should be a corresponding increase in grants offered by the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

Reliance on international students

The report also highlighted the critical financial reliance of many colleges and universities on international students, who contribute significantly more in fees than domestic students, indicating that these institutions might struggle to sustain themselves financially without this international revenue.

“They are financially sustainable only because of international students,” it said. 

The reliance on international students, who pay considerably higher fees, is a double-edged sword, contributing to the financial viability of institutions but also straining local housing markets.

The panel suggested differential treatment for colleges, allowing them to raise fees over a longer period compared to universities. A review of the cap on students at colleges with private-sector international partnerships and a comprehensive analysis of future international enrolment plans were also recommended.

Increased financial literacy training for board members and a focus on institutional financial health reviews were proposed. Special attention was suggested for the unique challenges faced by northern institutions, like higher operational costs and lower enrolment.

In a separate opinion, not endorsed by the entire panel, Harrison advocated for the University of Toronto to set its own tuition amounts, citing its preeminent status and higher operational costs.

The panel’s recommendations, if implemented, could significantly reshape Ontario’s higher education landscape. The proposed tuition framework seeks to balance financial sustainability with affordability concerns. The government’s cautious approach reflects a need to balance fiscal responsibility with educational accessibility.

This unfolding scenario is a crucial moment for Ontario’s higher education system, demanding careful consideration of the diverse needs of students, institutions, and the broader community.

banner place

What to read next...

Sign Up for Weekly Top 12 News

Expert picks in the intl ed world, in your inbox.

Get the Top 12 trending international education news stories from around the world, sourced from authoritative media outlets and publications worldwide. 

This expertly curated newsletter aims to support the global knowledge base of international education stakeholders – higher education institutions, recruitment partners, government officials, service providers, and students. 

The newsletter is delivered to subscribers’ inbox every Wednesday evening at 10:30 PM PT / 1:39 AM ET. 

We respect and protect your privacy. If you do not wish to receive future issues of the MSM Reporter, you may unsubscribe at any time.
Read our privacy policy