January 15, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 58  

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Funding for tuition freeze unspecified

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

The presidents of Ontario’s universities are frustrated over Premier Dalton McGuinty’s slow movement on delivering a fully funded tuition freeze as promised during the October election campaign, with some questioning if the initiative is affordable or even desirable.

“The real concern that all of us have is that a tuition freeze won’t be compensated by the government,” said Brock University President David Atkinson of his colleagues across the province. “The only natural consequence is that quality [of education] would be further eroded.”

Atkinson said he believed a tuition freeze in the current context would have a “small” impact on the government’s stated goals of improving accessibility and affordability for students.

Instead, a comprehensive reform of the student financial aid system is required to improve access to higher education, Atkinson said. “There simply has to be a thorough shakedown and re-conceptualization of how student aid flows to students.

“It has to be a group effort,” Atkinson said. “[The] government should take the lead on this, [but] this should not and cannot be a top-down issue.”

But according to a national student lobby group, the protestations made by university presidents are mostly “sheer and utter nonsense”.

“We think the university presidents are engaged in a lobby to undermine the freeze,” said Joel Duff, Ontario chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students, which considers the tuition freeze a lobbying victory.

Western President Paul Davenport expressed concern as to how the government will calculate “full funding,” noting he hopes the amount would account for the equivalent of a two per cent tuition increase for regulated programs and an average of the increase over the past five years for deregulated programs.

Davenport acknowledged that the issue was complex. “[I am] hopeful that the decision on tuition compensation will be announced in the spring budget or before that.”

Ingrid Walter, a spokesperson for Mary Anne Chambers, the minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, said quality of education would not be sidelined by the proposed tuition freeze, though no specifics could be provided. “The tuition freeze is currently going through the decision process,” she said. “[Chambers] is working on ironing out the implementation details.”

Walter would not say when the final decision would be made, but conceded an announcement may come after the upcoming public funding consultations.

The budget planning process has already begun for many universities across the province, leaving university administrators guessing what the final amount will be.

“We have a preliminary budget that would presume what the government promised,” said University of Toronto President Robert Birgeneau. “We’re assuming we’ll get the freeze.”

If the money does not come through, Birgeneau said, universities will face a financial shortfall. Students will also be affected by the freeze, and if they budget incorrectly, universities might find themselves low on cash, he added.

—with files from Marshall Bellamy



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