Choose-Your-Own-Adventure (Budget Edition)

In today’s mailbox, a bit of promotion from a hard-working staffer at TVO, who writes:

Hi College Prof –

I just came across your blog and, given your posts about the throne speech [cf. here, here, and here] and with budget day fast approaching, I thought our new budget simulator might interest you. If you feel like having a look, it’s at: bit.ly/bsEdXY If you like it, pass it along.

And well, we’re professors, so it might be worth showing to some of our students as well.  (Who knows, they might be interested in the personal vs. corporate tax rate.)  What I do like about the simulator is that it gives a sense of the benefits or sacrifices that are implied by spending increases or cuts to each item.

What the Throne Speech proposes, however (and what no simulator can easily account for) is to increase educational funding without increasing educational spending, by turning to foreign investment in the form of international students.

With reference to the simulator itself, the government is looking for a way  to toggle that “education spending” lever on the simulator to achieve a level at which “the province could expand programming to include . . . adding teachers or expanding training and tuition assistance budgets” or could even “renovate and upgrade infrastructure”, all without increasing any of the revenue (taxation) toggles on the right.

They’re proposing to do this by adding a new toggle to the array — an “international sources of revenue” one.  It’s a logically valid strategy — as the Toronto Star notes approvingly — and my qualms about it concern its likely effectiveness and profitability more than its principles.

What I’ll be interested in seeing in any upcoming budget is a recognition of the costs of attracting international students — either direct costs (like promotion, to help Ontario’s venture compete against the £7 million that the UK has devoted to attracting international students), operating costs like the added support services that would be needed to accommodate the students, or the indirect costs of potentially restructuring Ontario’s postsecondary system, to meet transnational standards and accreditations.

The presence or absence of an honest assessment of the costs that would accompany this policy change in an upcoming budget will indicate whether the Ontario government is serious about this proposal, or whether daydreams are the new basis of Ontario’s postsecondary educational strategy.

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