May 20, 2004  
Volume 98, Issue 01  

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Provincial budget to fund tuition freeze

By Marshall Bellamy
Gazette Staff

Amid the catcalls from hecklers in the Provincial Legislature, Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara tabled the Liberal government’s first budget on Tuesday, and post-secondary education will not be left out in the cold.

While the budget leveled off spending in most of the provincial ministries, health care and municipalities received generous boosts in funding, along with post-secondary education.
The budget promised to fund the shortfall universities and colleges will experience when tuition is frozen. A comprehensive review of post-secondary education in the province will also be led by former Ontario premier Bob Rae, and the Ontario Student Assistance Program will undergo a $20.9-million overhaul.

“The overall aspect of it is that they have not increased the Quality Assurance Fund,” said Acting Western President and VP-research Nils Petersen, noting fewer funds will be coming in to universities.

He also expressed doubts over how the $62.6-million promised to increase enrollment will be spread out over Ontario’s universities and whether the government would earmark money for unfunded students. “There was a hope for funding for unfunded students — we were hoping the province would recognize that.”

Petersen also explained future budgets may be different for universities. “I think they are putting us in a holding pattern for a year until the review comes out.”

Ontario Undergarduate Student Alliance executive director Adam Spence echoed Petersen’s sentiments. “I would agree we’re in a holding pattern,” he said. “The larger reforms will take place in the long run. It will be done in the early new year and that’s when we’ll really pressure the government.

“This is an opportunity for shaping the system,” Spence added, noting the government is taking the review very seriously. “They’re putting a lot of stock in this review.”

“We still need more funding. We’re still 10th in Canada for funding per student,” Spence noted, adding that while the reforms to OSAP are welcome, changes are still needed for student assistance. “The student assistance system still needs reform. We want to see it in the form of non-repayable funding or grants.”

“The budget really focuses on health care. It’s not as clear if it focuses on education,” said Jacquetta Newman, a political science professor at King’s University College. Newman added the government seems focused on appearing as if they will balance the budget by the next election four years from now.

According to Newman, even though there will be an adjustment to OSAP, the higher fees and taxes introduced in the budget will hurt students. “You’re paying for smokes, you’re paying for booze — if you’re living off-campus you’re paying higher hydro bills.

“I don’t think much has changed,” she asserted, referring to promises for faculty and rising maintenance costs that did not receive funding. “The private sector will come and bail out the universities.”

“I think it’s predictable; the government is going to tackle the deficit and health care,” said Paul Barker, a political science professor at Brescia University College. “It’s a health care budget.”

Barker pointed to the increases to funding for primary, home, and community care, all of which took up a sizable portion of the funding from the budget.

The Liberal government also introduced a new health care premium based on income. “This is going to be a tough one because they promised no taxes,” Barker said.



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