The Opposition’s Response to the Throne Speech

This from Rosario Marchese, Education critic for the Ontario NDP, and published in the Toronto Sun:

An educated and skilled workforce is one of the cornerstones of a prosperous and competitive Ontario. But we can’t accomplish this without strong leadership and a compelling vision for post-secondary education in Ontario.

Under the current McGuinty administration we have neither. Instead, we’ve seen over the years a patchwork of announcements and inflated rhetoric.

In 2005, the McGuinty government brought in its much publicized “Reaching Higher” program, which was supposed to inject badly needed funding into post-secondary education. Unfortunately, for every new dollar of student financial assistance made available through Reaching Higher, $1.30 was clawed back through tuition fee increases.

Ontario now has the highest tuition fees in the country – 21% higher than the average for undergraduates and 44% higher for graduate students.

In Monday’s throne speech, Dalton McGuinty outlined yet another strategy, called Open Ontario.

Now the solution to unacceptably high teacher-student ratios, rocketing tuition fees, lack of accessibility, and crippling debt loads — not to mention the increasing demand created by older workers retraining alongside recent high-school graduates — is simply to attract more international students and their money to Ontario.

Can it really be that easy?

Will more international students result in reductions in tuition for Ontario and Canadian students?

After we reach a high enough threshold of international students, will the class sizes somehow start to decrease?

Will the increased fees and other monies from international students be used to hire more full-time faculty?

Will students’ debt loads be lessened by the greater presence of international students?

Will the international students somehow eliminate the estimated $1.7 billion required just to address deferred maintenance across Ontario campuses?

International students? That’s the answer? Of course not.

The plan to increase the presence of international students in Canada is not an educational plan. It’s simply a way to raise a little more cash — no more and no less.

In fact, the throne speech was notable for the absence of any substance with regards to post-secondary education. Perhaps McGuinty thinks he is on the right path and simply needs to keep moving in the same direction. He couldn’t be more wrong.

The fact the problems in the system are being managed right now has everything to do with the sacrifices students and their families have made, including taking on crippling debt loads that will haunt them for the rest of their lives and decrease their purchasing power for years to come.

This is not good policy. This is not an effective way to build up the work force we need to compete in the global economy.

It’s not too late to act. Investing in high-quality post-secondary education and training is the most effective way to stimulate the economy and build a resilient future for Ontario.

It’s not enough to simply let the students and families shoulder the burden indefinitely. We can and must do better.

Besides offering excellent programs, I remain curious about what McGuinty proposes to do to make Ontario’s postsecondary schools “more attractive” to foreign students.  Would that involve promotion, perhaps?  And, if so, at what cost?

Would it involve the creation of specific centres or institutes that cater exclusively to international students, often with (dare we say) “premium” offerings like lower class sizes?  And, if so, would new money be added to the system to accommodate these things, or would the measures to attract international students be treated as if they were self-supporting?  Will schools be forced to compete against each other for provincial funding, by bending over backwards for international students?

In short, will the new money being put into the system be used to improve the current system (in terms of maintenance, class sizes, full-time hires), or will the system’s current needs be put on hold yet again, because added funding will be earmarked for making the system more attractive for foreign capital?

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