What’s drawn everyone’s attention so far is this idea of “30% tuition rebates” – understandably so since the cost of the this one is almost a third of all new proposed spending (the miserly sums are a nod towards the fact that the province is essentially broke and can’t afford any new spending). I’ll go into more depth about these rebates tomorrow in my Globe blog, globecampus.tumblr.com; suffice for the moment to say that the vagueness of some of the wording suggests that this item was a very last-minute inclusion and that there a lot of potential landmines – really big ones, actually – in implementation.
But ignore that for a moment, and take a gander at page nine of the costing document. It suggests that if the McGuinty Liberals are re-elected then Ontario post-secondary institutions can expect to see their budgets grow from 7.2 billion to 7.9 billion over the course of the next four years. Now, if you’re thinking; “10% over four years isn’t bad in tough times,” think again – that $700 million increase includes the $486 million set aside for the tuition grants, which of course doesn’t benefit institutions one bit. It also presumably needs to cover ongoing funding for the 60,000 new places the government has announced (capital costs for these students are included in the cost estimates but the ongoing operating funding isn’t). Assuming a nice round $5,000 subsidy per student per year, that’s another $300 million, at which point we have used up the entire budgeted increase.
So, no rise to account for inflation. No rise to account for increasing salaries. No rise for anything, really – it’s a straight nominal freeze for institutions regardless of what’s happening to them on the cost side. And this is from what is probably the most pro-PSE of the three parties in the current legislature. Any other deal institutions might get is likely going to be worse. And there’s no get-out on the tuition side. If anything, the Liberals look set to reduce the annual 5% increase to something closer to 3%.
That means there’s no getting around the need for some serious belt-tightening. Administrations at Western and Carleton are almost certainly wishing they could get a do-over on their faculty settlements from last year, and I can guarantee that this is going to make a resolution of the current Ontario colleges support staff strike a lot more difficult. There simply isn’t money around anymore to fund the kind of settlements to which people have become accustomed.
Expect strikes. Expect hiring freezes. Expect an exodus of Ontario talent to better-funded universities further west. This is what a $15 billion deficit will do to you.