Auditor general says Ontario’s post-secondary sector operating without ‘clear strategy’

Queen's University campus is pictured in Kingston, Ontario on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

Ontario post-secondary sector is operating without a clear strategy or vision, the province’s auditor general says.

As part of her annual value-for-money audit, Ontario’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, probed four small-to-medium-sized universities. The audit was triggered in the wake of the financial problems that engulfed Laurentian University in 2021.

“The Ministry of Colleges and Universities does not have a clear strategy or long-term vision for the post-secondary sector in Ontario,” Lysyk said on Wednesday.

That lack of a strategy means the province doesn’t know how many post-secondary institutions it needs and how much funding should be earmarked for or charged to each domestic and international student.

It also means institutions compete for both domestic and international students with an “‘every university for itself’ mentality,” the report said.

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In particular, the auditor general said Ontario doesn’t have a plan to differentiate the programs offered by colleges versus universities. Some colleges offer degree programs, while universities teach certificates.

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“Over time the originally intended purposes of Ontario’s post-secondary institutions have blurred and now overlap,” the report said.

The auditor general also pointed to a growing need for tuition fees from international students amongst Ontario post-secondary institutions.

“A high reliance on international student enrolment by universities poses risks outside of the Ministry’s and the universities’ control, such as the potential loss of a large number of students if individuals from one country were to suddenly not be able to obtain study permits (visas) or otherwise be restricted from entering Canada,” the report said.

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In its response to the auditor general, printed in her report, the Ministry of Universities and Colleges said it “acknowledges the issues and concerns raised in this audit and is committed to working with publicly-assisted universities to address the issues raised in this report.”

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