Ontario university professors and students have given all three party leaders failing marks for overlooking the higher education that fuels jobs — during an election campaign they say is all about jobs.
While they give the Liberal budget faint praise for funding repairs, research and enrolment growth, “the NDP don’t go far enough and the PC proposals would lead to devastation of post-secondary funding,” warned Kate Lawson, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.
“Universities really do add to the economy, so it’s baffling and disappointing the parties aren’t addressing education,” said Lawson. “Not a single party has delivered a clear vision of the future for the postsecondary education sector.”
Despite their budget promises, the Liberals still fail “because we still have the lowest per-student funding in the country and the highest student-faculty ratio,” said Lawson, an English professor at the University of Waterloo who said her classes grow larger each year.
“Why is Ontario at the bottom on the pack?”
The Liberal budget pledged $500 million over 10 years towards an estimated $2 billion in deferred maintenance on university campuses and as much as $745 million at colleges.
The NDP has pledged to freeze tuition for the next four years, but says nothing about raising government funding to institutions to make up for that loss of revenue, she noted. And the Tories’ plan to scrap a 30 per cent tuition rebate “would have serious affects on affordability.
“By ignoring the important contributions that higher education makes, the parties are ignoring jobs and the economy.”
Alastair Woods, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario, cast partial blame on “the nature of this snap election, which has led to politics trumping discussion of public policy.” His group welcomed the NDP tuition freeze as a “good first step” but said it falls short of laying out a long-term plan for actually lowering tuition.
Woods said his group appreciated landing a meeting during the campaign with Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne to discuss their concerns, but remain “very disappointed that the budget held really nothing for students.”
Ontario’s community colleges are waiting to see which party would give the green light to converting some three-year diplomas into degrees, which are a more recognized credential for three-year programs around the world, said Linda Franklin, president of Colleges Ontario, noting the Liberal government has appointed a consultant to examine the issue.
“When we look at youth unemployment and the skills shortage, there’s never been a time when the value of community colleges has been more apparent,” she noted.
The Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Alliance actually praised Conservative promises to fund more faculty whose job is to teach without having to do research, as well as fund more science and math-oriented programs.
“We just want to make sure there is still a recognition of the value of humanities and liberal arts programs,” said president Jen Carter, a criminology student at Western University. Her group opposes the idea of scrapping the tuition rebate, but rather calls for $70 million more to allow it to apply to a broader range of students.