Higher Education Strategy Associates

Tag Archives: Platforms

May 27

Ontario Platform Review

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.

September 25

Campaign Platforms on Higher Education – Halifax Edition

It’s election time out on the east coast, and with polling day (October 8th) fast approaching, it’s time to see what the various parties have on offer for post-secondary education.

The ruling NDP is proposing… nothing.  Nothing at all.  Instead of an actual manifesto, they are running on their record (kind of) and making seven “key commitments” for the next term, none of which touch on post-secondary education in anyway.  This is a tactic often used by sitting governments, but it’s still disappointing.  It’s basically a way of saying “trust us”.  In PSE, where the Dexter government’s policy has essentially been, “raise student aid, cut grants to universities, and pray that somehow, beyond all reason, institutions self-implement the O’Neill Report“, it’s not a reassuring method.

(Seriously, why did Dexter ask Tim O’Neill for that report in the first place?  O’Neill never made any bones that he thought the situation going forward was dire, or that significant reform was necessary – why ask him to recommend such difficult measures if, as a government, the NDP lacked the will to implement any of them?)

The Liberal platform contains two proposals, both of which are pretty lightweight.  One is to remove interest on provincial student loans, even in repayment; apparently, government paying people to borrow is a good idea.  The second is to create – and I quote – “graduate scholarships for research and innovation to build research capacity for Nova Scotia”.  Well, of course!  Who knew building research capacity was that simple?

The Conservative platform is probably the most interesting.  For one thing, it suggests requiring institutions to provide prospective students with information about graduate employability.  I have no idea what that might mean in practice, but I suspect this meme will be popping up in many manifestos over the next few years.

More importantly, perhaps, the Tories are offering five-year MOUs with both NSCC and the province’s universities.  In the case of universities, these MOUs are to be based on – pay attention here – “high quality, affordable post-secondary education, institutional fiscal responsibility, commercialization, and population growth”.  In the case of NSCC, it is to be based on, “affordable and accessible post-secondary education, job ready skills training, increased focus on the trades, institutional fiscal responsibility, and population growth”.  Interesting distinctions, no?

Here’s the bottom line.  No party is making any promises of new money to universities or colleges (the Tories are offering MOUs, but not making cash commitments).  The only new money any party is offering is targeted towards students, which is consistent with the recent pattern of “feed the students, starve the schools” that we’ve seen in recent provincial budgets across Canada.

So, no change there, unfortunately.

January 09

They’re From Queen’s Park, and They’re Here to Help

Want to know what’s in store for higher education in Ontario?  Take a quick look at the platforms of Liberal leadership contenders.

Eric Hoskins’s five point “prescription” for a healthy Ontario omits education entirely.  Similarly, co-front runner Sandra Pupatello’s platform avoids any and all mention of education.  Ditto for Gerard Kennedy (at pixel time, he actually appears not to have a platform of any kind).

Kathleen Wynne and Charles Sousa each have similar platform commitments to increasing co-op, experiential learning, etc.  In general, this is a Good Thing, of course, but there are some undertones of curricular tinkering here which should make universities slightly nervous.  Wynne also wants to provide “stimulus for increased opportunities to graduate studies” (whatever that means), greater credit transfer mobility and – funds permitting – create a scholarship to promote entrepreneurship (one suspects this idea was not focus-tested with any actual entrepreneurs).  Harinder Takhar has a grab-bag of ideas, which range from expanding public sector internships, to eliminating barriers to recognition of international credentials (good luck with that!), to something not-fully-baked about extending tuition tax credits to businesses if they pay for a student’s tuition.

Nobody, you’ll notice, is promising any actual money to institutions.  They’re all sticking by the current government’s promise – matched in the last election by both opposition parties – to not spend a new cent on higher education until 2017.

This brings us to the higher education sector’s favourite son, Glen Murray, who caught almost an hour’s worth of headlines back in November when he launched his campaign with the idea of a flashy-sounding “no-money down tuition plan”.  Here’s how he describes it:

“Our plan will allow students to attend university with no money down. Instead, they can choose to borrow for each year of study up to $4,000 for college tuition and fees, $7,000 for undergrad’ tuition and fees, and not have to repay until they get a good job after graduation.  After graduation, repayment of loans and the interest rate applied would be on a sliding scale, depending on your income after you graduate.”

If this sounds familiar, it’s because student loans already work in almost precisely this fashion – something one might have hoped Murray had picked up on while he was Minister.  The only difference between this plan and the existing system is that Murray’s seems to eliminate parental contributions for that portion of the loan dealing with tuition.  That’s not a terrible idea, but it’s not new (see: this IRPP proposal from 2004) and it’s of no net benefit to anyone already benefitting from student loans.

Basically, it’s all a bit grim.  Budget accordingly.

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