Province extends tuition freeze for Ontario residents

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On Mar. 23, 2022, the government of Ontario announced that tuition fees for Ontario residents attending post-secondary institutions in the province will not rise in the 2022-2023 academic year. This decision is an extension of the freeze first announced for the 2020-2021 and then extended for the 2021-2022 academic years. 

Prior to the freezes, the province reduced tuition fees by 10 per cent for the 2019-20 academic year.

According to a survey conducted by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) in 2020, 61 per cent of students were concerned about having enough money to complete their education. 

“Although we are pleased that domestic tuition will not be increased this coming year, we are worried there is still not enough support for students that demonstrate financial need,” Eunice Oladejo, OUSA President and VP External Affairs for the University Student Council at Western University said in a press release. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted key gaps within student financial aid and, unfortunately, this tuition framework fails to address some of these gaps.”  

Many students already work throughout the academic year or during summers to help cover the cost of their tuition. However, provincial lockdowns during the pandemic had a particularly strong impact on many students, with employment rates among students aged 20 to 24 falling from 52.5 per cent to 28.9 per cent between April 2020 and February 2021. 

Additionally, 61 per cent of post-secondary students reported feeling anxious that they would use up their savings in dealing with additional issues caused by the pandemic.

The federal government attempted to bridge gaps in financial aid during the pandemic with programs like the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), which aimed to cover students who did not qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). CESB provided weekly payments of $1,250 for 16 weeks, $2,000 for students with disabilities or dependents. 

Despite this higher coverage, stringent eligibility requirements, including one stating students must have been prevented from working due to the pandemic, rather than simply unable to find work, left students falling through the cracks.

International and out-of-province students face a compounded set of obstacles, as the freeze does not apply to out-of-province or international students, nor are international students eligible for OSAP financial aid.

International tuition revenue increased by 152 percent between the 2016-17 and 2019-20 academic years, while domestic fee revenue dropped by 3 per cent. 

A 2021 report from the Auditor General also found that Ontario’s public college fee revenue was increasingly reliant on international students.

“As a result of the tuition freeze not applying to out-of-province or international students, and as neither are eligible for OSAP, the former may experience increased fees as a result, though this risk is heightened for international students, who pay significantly higher tuition compared to their domestic counterparts,” OUSA said in the same press release. “The 2019-20 tuition reduction as well as the 2020-21 and 2021-22 tuition freezes, which were not supplemented by an increase in operating grants, placed an increased reliance on raising international student fees and recruiting more international students.” 

In the 2021-22 academic year, the average cost of tuition per year in Ontario for international students was $42,185, while the cost for domestic students remained $7,938. 

“Post-secondary institutions rely on student tuition, particularly international tuition, to fund their operating budgets as student contributions continue to outpace government contributions,” said Nathan R. G. Barnett, OUSA Steering Committee Member and Vice President of University Affairs at Trent Durham Student Association. “It’s clear that Ontario post-secondary generally needs higher investments from the province to not only better support student affordability, but also strengthen operating grants to institutions so they can continue to provide high-quality education.”

Previous Imprint articles have also addressed this issue, finding that the 2009/2010 academic year was the last year that grants were a larger revenue stream for the university than tuition fees; then standing at 45.1 per cent and 44.4 per cent respectively of operating revenue. 

Though the province announced funding earlier this month meant for UW, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College to modernize infrastructure, the Ford government has not yet released any plans to increase grants to supplement universities’ loss in revenue from domestic tuition or take similar steps to alleviate financial burdens placed on students by the cost of post-secondary education.