Ford shut down internal push to raise university, college tuition: Docs

Click to play video: 'Internal government fight over tuition increase'
Internal government fight over tuition increase
WATCH: Confidential government documents, obtained by Global News, revealed Ontario Premier Doug Ford shut down internal recommendations to raise tuition rates for college and university students. Colin D'Mello has the story – Feb 27, 2024

Ontario Premier Doug Ford shut down internal recommendations to raise tuition rates for college and university students, Global News has learned, as the post-secondary sector deals with financial upheaval and questions about future viability.

Confidential government documents, leaked to Global News, reveal that the Ministry of College and Universities was prepared to raise tuition by five per cent over three years — the first increase since rates were frozen by the Ford government in 2019.

Raising tuition was one of the key recommendations by the government’s own blue-ribbon panel on financial sustainability for the post-secondary sector.

The report advised the government to create a “multi-year tuition framework” that started with a five-per cent tuition increase, followed by a two-per cent hike for each year of the framework.

According to confidential government documents and sources who spoke to Global News on condition of anonymity, Minister Jill Dunlop was prepared to act on the key recommendation and enlisted other cabinet ministers to convince Premier Ford.

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The document states that the ministry wanted to “increase predictability for institutions” by creating a three-year tuition fee framework with limited increases that would be lower than recommended.

Here are the tuition fee increases the minister proposed:

  • Three per cent for domestic in-province students and five per cent for domestic out-of-province students in 2024-25
  • Two per cent for inflationary adjustments for domestic in-province students and five per cent domestic out-of-province students in 2025-26 and 2026-27
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The increases, the confidential documents laid out, would have cost domestic college and university students between $151 and $242 in the first year, but would have brought in a total of $345 million for the post-secondary sector over three years.

“Additional revenue helps ensure high-quality education by allowing institutions to manage rising program deliver costs due to inflation and pressures of Bill 124 while MCU works with institutions to drive efficiencies,” the document states.

While the policy was slated for cabinet consideration and a public release in late January or early February, multiple sources told Global News the premier proved to be a major stumbling block.

Then, at an unrelated news conference at the end of January, Premier Ford publicly spiked the idea of a tuition fee increase and crystalized his government’s position.

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“I just don’t believe this is the time to go into these students’ pockets, especially the ones that are really struggling, and ask for a tuition increase,” Ford said on Jan. 31.

Progressive Conservative insiders told Global News that the premier’s podium comments “came as a bit of a surprise.”

“We knew he was leaning that way, to not increase tuition,” one source told Global News on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. “The ultimate notification came through his statements.

“A lot of people were surprised that it was just unequivocally decided on.”

On Monday, as Dunlop unveiled a $1.3-billion fund over three years to support the post-secondary sector, she announced a small part of the tuition fee increase that had been considered would go ahead.

The government said out-of-province students would face a modest, regulated increase in the cost of their tuition if post-secondary institutions chose to raise fees.  Ontario students will not face an increase.

“That was a recommendation by the panel but I will not apologize for continuing to freeze tuition in this province,” Dunlop said. “The premier has been very clear that this is an affordability issue. We will continue the tuition freeze for the next three years.”

The freeze is being publicly supported by the Ontario NDP, Liberals and Green parties.

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Opposition parties, however, are using the announcement to call for the government to increase other funding to universities.

“Students are not the piggy bank for universities and colleges, it’s got to be better than that,” Ontario Liberal MPP Adil Shamji said Monday.

Despite the initial lobbying efforts, it appears the final submission to cabinet omitted the original pitch to pump up tuition.

“There are no cabinet documents to support this claim,” said a spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford.

“At a time when people are feeling squeezed by the high cost of living, the premier would never consider raising tuition on the backs of Ontario students and parents,” the spokesperson said.

“This plan is fully backed by cabinet.”

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