The current Ontario election is possibly the most depressing one I’ve ever lived through. I agree entirely with Laval’s Stephen Gordon, who describes the province as the northern equivalent of Argentina: formerly great, and utterly unable to deal with decline. Kathleen Wynne isn’t quite Cristina Fernandez, of course, the Liberals aren’t quite Peronists, and Toronto FC sure ain’t Boca Juniors. But there are still enough parallels to make you go “hmmmm”.
Anyways, where do the three parties stand on post-secondary education? It’s harder than you’d think to tell, because neither opposition party seems to have put a whole lot of thought and care into their platforms and the associated costing (read Jim Stanford’s quite astonishing deconstruction of the Tory jobs numbers here, for instance). Still, to the extent intentions can be teased out from current documentation, here it is in a nutshell:
Institutional Grants: Assuming the Liberal Platform is the 2014 Budget, then institutions can look forward to four years of one percent increases in government grants. Neither the Conservatives nor the NDP have promised any increase at all (though see below on NDP tuition promise).
Student Assistance: The New Democrats say they will make provincial loans interest-free. Assuming this is not retroactive (that is, it only applies to loans issued in 2013-14 onwards) this is a pretty cheap proposal because the province already forgives about two-thirds of the provincial loans it issues. My calculation suggests that, at most, this costs about $10 million in year one, and evens out after about four years at a cost of between $30 and $40 million. The Liberal platform offers nothing more than a re-iteration of how great their 30% tuition rebate grant is. The Conservative platform says it will eliminate the rebate at a savings of $450-500 million. This, they claim, is in line with recommendations of Drummond commission, but that’s not actually true; what Drummond actually asked was for all aid, including the grant, to be “reshaped” and made more targeted. Removing the grant won’t actually save what the Conservatives say it will; the Ontario Student Opportunity Grant will necessarily rise somewhat to compensate.
Tuition: Implicitly, the Liberal position is a continuance of a 3% cap on tuition. The Conservatives have said nothing at all about tuition during the campaign, but if their White Paper on PSE is any guide, the policy seems to be modest, across-the-board increases, along with selective deregulation. The NDP has proposed a tuition freeze and appears to offer partial compensation to institutions. They offer very little detail so it’s hard to tell for sure, but assuming that the aforementioned interest-free loan promise is only for new loans, there will be about $80 million (rising to $240 million over three years) left over with which to compensate institutions for the lack of fee revenue. If you exclude international student fees and assume no growth in student numbers, it implies that compensation will be about 2% – or, less than what fees would have brought in, so this pledge would not seem, in fact, to compensate institutions fully for the loss of revenue.
Apprentices: The Tories really like the idea of dramatically expanding the number of apprentices, for reasons that are somewhat vague. Their thesis is that the reason this cannot be done is because the ratio of apprentices to journeypersons on worksites is too low. They would like to raise this ratio in order to increase the number of apprentice spots. What this would do to the quality of instruction/supervision is not addressed.
Financial Summary: Based on the foregoing, PSE institutions can expect the following from the three parties:
Liberals: a 1% p.a, hike in the grant, plus 3% p.a. on fees, means budget growth of 2%, plus whatever they can grab from international students. No change on student aid.
NDP: 0% in the grant, 2% as compensation for the fee freeze means 1% growth, plus whatever can be grabbed from international students. An extra $10M per year in interest subsidies for students.
PC: As far as can be gleaned from their official documents, the increase is 0% in the grant and likely some increase (how much is unknown) in fees. Allegedly, student aid will fall by $450-$500 million, but in practice somewhat less than that.
Enjoy the franchise.