TORONTO, November 15, 2023 – “Ontario’s universities thank the Chair, Vice-Chair and members of the Blue-Ribbon Panel for their hard work in laying out a comprehensive plan for the financial sustainability of the sector. We also thank Minister Jill Dunlop and the provincial government for their leadership in establishing this Panel and for acknowledging the need for a blueprint for government action.
The work of the Panel comes at a critical juncture for postsecondary education in Ontario. A 10% tuition cut in 2019 plus a four-year tuition freeze, declining operating grants and higher inflation have created a perfect storm that has placed enormous financial pressure on Ontario’s universities.
The situation is becoming increasingly untenable, as universities can no longer continue to absorb cuts and freezes amidst rising inflation and costs, and many are facing deficits, with the growing risk of insolvencies. The time for government action is now.
As outlined in the Panel’s report, “The sector’s financial sustainability is currently at serious risk, and it will take a concerted effort to right the ship. Our recommendations, if implemented in their entirety, will, we believe, set the sector on the path to a financially sustainable future.”
Without an end to the tuition freeze and additional government funding, the programs and services Ontario’s students rely on and deserve are at risk.
We welcome the recommendations announced today as they will, if implemented immediately, help move Ontario’s universities towards financial sustainability.
Key to achieving financial health for the sector are the Panel’s recommendations to:
- Implement a three-year tuition fee framework in the Fall of 2024, starting with a 5% tuition increase for general programs
- Immediately boost operating grants by 10% and index over time
Over the past four years, tuition rates across the country have increased by 15 per cent on average. Ontario now ranks sixth in the country for tuition rates for general programs and, with the panel recommendations, tuition rates three years from now will continue to be below the rates students paid in 2018.
Ensuring access to postsecondary education is a priority for Ontario’s universities. In fact, universities currently invest more than $1.3 billion a year in financial assistance, bursaries and scholarships. With the Panel’s recommended increase in tuition revenue, universities will continue to dedicate 10% of additional domestic tuition revenue to student financial assistance.
Additionally, addressing the unique needs of French and Northern postsecondary education is vital to supporting students in communities throughout Ontario. COU will work with universities and the government on how best to address their unique needs in the future.
Ontario’s universities continue to see strong demand from Ontario students. Over the past two years, applications by Ontario high school students have increased by 11 per cent. As the number of 18-24-year-olds is forecasted by the province to significantly increase over the next several years, the demand from Ontario students will continue to grow.
However, the current funding cap on domestic students is limiting opportunities for Ontario students. COU is urging the province to accelerate its review of the current funding cap on domestic student enrolment so universities can enroll more Ontario students and help meet the growing labour market demand for highly skilled talent.
As universities continue to adapt and evolve to better serve students, they are also finding additional ways to streamline and reduce costs. In fact, according to the Blue-Ribbon Panel report, “salary and benefit costs in Ontario’s universities per full-time equivalent student are lower than in almost every other province.” With a long history of implementing measures to enhance efficiencies, universities are laying out next steps to find even more new and innovative ways to drive greater operational efficiencies.
Now that the Panel has produced its blueprint for financial sustainability, Ontario universities are urgently calling on the province to immediately end the tuition freeze and increase operating funds to the sector to ensure students can continue to count on the programs and services they rely on and deserve.
The time for government action and investment in Ontario’s universities – and Ontario’s future – is now.”
– Steve Orsini, President and CEO, Council of Ontario Universities
Key Facts and Quotes:
- “Indeed, the panel is of the view that the costs to the province of failed postsecondary institutions are too high not to do it. Failure to act will threaten the province’s reputation, with significantly negative effects for international student recruitment, the advancement of regional economies, the preparedness of our future workforce, and the attraction of foreign investment.” Ensuring Financial Sustainability for Ontario’s Postsecondary Sector – Blue-Ribbon Panel on Postsecondary Education Financial Sustainability, Nov. 15, 2023
- “Universities have exercised spending controls, scaled back on capital plans, and implemented cost efficiency initiatives to reduce expenses….However, as operating performance is weighed down by limited revenue flexibility, now compounded by the substantial inflationary challenges and arising from difficult labour negotiations across the public sector, universities are now faced with tough decisions in managing cost pressures, potentially affecting the quality of education and the overall student experience.” Canadian Universities Grappling with Diverse Post-Pandemic Challenges – Morningstar | DBRS, Nov. 13, 2023
- The Auditor General’s 2022 report noted that according to government analysis, with a continued freeze, it is projected that eight of 22 universities would have a deficit in 2022/23 and that this would increase to 12 of 22 universities in 2023/24.