Ontario to lower cap on tuition increases

A new plan to make post-secondary education more affordable could spell trouble for Ontario colleges.

The Ontario government has unveiled a new framework that will see the cap on tuition increases lowered from five per cent to three per cent annually for each of the next four years.

Brad Duguid, the minister of training, colleges and universities, said this is good news for students, as they can expect to save an average of $300 per year under the new framework.

Duguid added that while the proposed cap will mean savings for students, it will amount to added costs for colleges.

“We have to be very straight up and honest about this: this decision will take revenue, future revenue, from universities and colleges,” Duguid said.

These changes are not expected to be problematic at Humber.

Rick Embree, associate vice president of planning and development at Humber, said Humber is relatively safe because strong budget surpluses and high student populations have meant they don’t typically budget for high tuition increases at all, meaning there will be little lost revenue.

The same cannot be said for other colleges.

“Smaller and medium-sized colleges could have a hard time because they don’t have the scale,” Embree said.

Orville Getz, president of Humber College’s faculty union, said these changes, though relatively small on a per-student level, can really add up and become major issues for colleges with small budgets or stagnant or declining enrollment numbers.

“To go from five per cent to three per cent is really going to affect a lot of the small colleges, almost to the point where they could have to close their doors,” he said.

Getz said he doesn’t expect the government to allow any such closures, but he worries this new framework could exacerbate some of the issues already faced by smaller colleges, related to funding, enrollment and space.

Getz said it is becoming increasingly difficult for small colleges to compete with larger institutions, such as those in and around the GTA, and that if small colleges are to survive, new models for funding and supporting colleges are needed, as well as for increased restrictions to be put in place regarding admissions.

“How do you persuade students to go to Thunder Bay or Timmins?” Getz said.

“You can’t do it. They’re not going to go all the way there, unless they can’t get in anywhere else, and right now, people are still getting in [to the larger colleges].”

Ontario promises summer job incentives

Brad Duguid, Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, speaks with students at Harbourfront Community Centre on March 20 about their experiences with the provincial government’s Summer Job Strategy.

Brad Duguid, Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, speaks with students at Harbourfront Community Centre on March 20 about their experiences with the provincial government’s Summer Job Strategy.

Students having difficulty finding summer employment can turn to the provincial government for support in addressing their work woes.

The province of Ontario’s Summer Job Strategy is returning for the summer of 2013 to help students between the ages of 15 and 29 find gainful employment for the months separating the fall and winter semesters.

Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, said summer jobs are important because the lessons and skills students learn will follow them throughout their careers.

“The workplace is a great teacher, and we’re committed to helping more young people get to work where they can learn, and earn, to everyone’s benefit,” he said.

“You look back at those jobs, and maybe you’d have wanted to spend that time on the beach, but those jobs were great experiences.”

Last year, the summer job strategy helped more than 100,000 students find work and Minister Duguid said he is confident that 2013 will see similar results.

At the core of the strategy is a $2 per hour incentive that the province offers to employers who hire students who will be returning to school in the fall.

Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, said that summer jobs represent more than just paycheques.

“It’s the opportunity, in many cases, to get your foot in the door,” he said.

Karen Fast, manager of Humber North’s Career Centre, said that while students should approach their job search with an open mind, not all jobs are created equal.

“Where I see students go wrong is they just take any old thing just to get money and they don’t try to get the related experience that’s going to help them build their resume,” she said.

Students determined to find a job in their field of study might find themselves tempted by unpaid, or voluntary, internships, Fast said, adding she is wary of these positions, likening them to a form of student exploitation.

“I’ve heard so many employers say, ‘Oh, but it’s such a good opportunity for them to gain experience,’ and all this,” she said. “’Yeah, blah blah blah, you’re getting a free employee.’”

Fast said she often reminds students that, instead of pursuing an internship directly linked to their studies, they can often learn applicable skills elsewhere in positions where the student would be paid for their efforts.

Frankie Lombardo, 20, a second-year business management student, is currently looking for a summer job and said he values flexibility above relevance to his program and wages.

“I have a lot of things with my family, so if I need to go see my grandmother, I’d need Saturdays and Sundays off,” he said.

Hudak puts colleges, three-year degrees first

Leader of the Opposition, Tim Hudak believes college training a strong option. Courtesy: Progressive Conservative Party

Leader of the Opposition, Tim Hudak believes college training a strong option. Courtesy: Progressive Conservative Party

Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak is hoping to raise the profile of Ontario’s colleges with a strategy he calls ‘college first’.

In Paths to Prosperity, a white paper released early last month, the PCs outlined their strategy for reimagining college education.

Rob Leone, the PC MPP for Cambridge who co-authored the white paper with Hudak, said they want to make colleges a much more viable choice for students, one that leads to good job opportunities.

“We want to make sure our colleges are supported in a way that maximizes their contribution to society,” Leone said.

The Conservatives want to change the way students think about college, recognizing the role experience-based education plays in finding a career.

Bhalinder Bedi, president of the Humber Students’ Federation, said changing the way people think about colleges has to begin early, at home and in high school.

“What picture is painted of college and university to you by your caregivers at a young age will determine what you strive to become,” Bedi said.

The Conservatives’ strategy also calls for an overhaul of the credit transfer system and a limit on the number of four-year degrees offered at the college level, encouraging colleges to offer three-year degrees instead.

This would link back to the party’s overarching goal of getting students educated faster, and with less accumulated debt, while also putting a system in place that would allow students to transition into university or graduate school.

Rick Embree, associate vice president of planning and development at Humber, said he supports the improved credit transfer system, but worries the depth of content allowed by a four-year program may not easily transition to a three-year model.

“We’re concerned the three-year may, if we’re not careful, not allow the transfer into the university system,” he said.

Brad Duguid, minister of training, colleges and universities, said he worries some of the other ideas put forward in the white paper, particularly the proposal to eliminate the Ontario Tuition Grant, will limit choice for students.

“I don’t think the way to build a strong attraction of people into skilled trade or college opportunities is to take away opportunities at the university level,” he said.

Duguid said increasing promotion of college education and the resulting job opportunities may be important, but it should not be done at the expense of access to universities.

“That piece makes some sense, and we’re keen to do that, and we’re doing that, but you have to leave the choice to students themselves,” Duguid said.

NDP calls for lower insurance premiums

The possibility of lower insurance premiums has Humber Students revving in anticipation.

The possibility of lower insurance premiums has Humber Students revving in anticipation.

Students who drive themselves to class could find themselves with more bank for their tank if a new NDP proposal finds traction.

In a Feb. 6 letter to premier Kathleen Wynne, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath called on the provincial government and Federal Services Commission of Ontario to instruct insurers province-wide lower insurance premiums by 15 per cent.

If implemented, this means Humber students who drive to class could see premiums reduced, on average, by more than $200 per year.

Pete Karageorgos, manager of consumer and industry relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said it is great the NDP is recognizing auto insurance costs are high, but their proposal lacks long-term vision.

“Saying we’re going to cut, without a plan, that’s irresponsible,” Karageorgos said.

Rather than simply forcing a decrease, he said a more sustainable approach to lowering insurance rates would be to address total costs, such as those associated with insurance fraud.

Jagmeet Singh, the Ontario NDP’s consumer affairs critic, said shifting the focus to fraud is, “ridiculous and ludicrous,” and, “a politics of distraction.”

“There’s no reason we need to wait for the implementation of any anti-fraud measures. You can go ahead and do those,” said Singh. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t cut down on fraud,but we’ve already cut down costs incurred by insurance companies astronomically.”

Singh said the Liberal government’s 2010 insurance reforms have fostered a climate of declining costs and rising profits, making it only fair that the consumer sees reduced rates as a result.

In a Jan. 21 statement, the Ministry of Finance said for 2012, auto insurance rates in Ontario actually decreased an average of 0.26 per cent.

Darcy McNeill, director of communications for the Ministry of Finance, said it is important any changes to insurance policy are made with industry input.

“It’s easy to just throw out a number, but the devil is in the details,” he said.

McNeill said the province’s anti-fraud taskforce is a key example of the government working alongside the insurance industry to cut costs, and as in 2012, their cooperation is expected to lead to lower rates over the long term.

Premier Wynne’s office was unavailable for comment.

Nurses association calls for hire of 9,000 new workers

In their report, Why Your Health Matters, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario calls for the hire of over 9,000 new RNs to meet needs around the province.

In their report, Why Your Health Matters, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario calls for the hire of over 9,000 new RNs to meet needs around the province.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario is urging the Ontario government to hire 9,000 new, full-time employed registered nurses by 2015.

During a press conference at Queen’s Park on Jan. 30, the RNAO unveiled Why Your Health Matters, a new report that focuses on policy reform in the areas of poverty, the environment, nursing care, and medicare.

The group said health care in Ontario is in a precarious position as a declining number of registered nurses have adversely affected its RN-to-population ratio, making it among the lowest in Canada.

This declining work force negatively impacted nurses’ workloads and the outcomes of patients, said RNAO CEO Doris Grinspun at the conference.

She highlighted that in the last year, Ontario lost over 1,000 RN positions, and that as Ontario’s population ages, the need to reverse this decline will become increasingly vital.

“The most urgent thing is to put the focus on not attracting RNs, but employing RNs,” she said.

Nursing and health care reform in Ontario requires a critical reevaluation of the roles of RNs and particular attention to be paid to preventative care, said MPP France Gélinas, the NDP’s critic for health and long-term care in Ontario.

Speaking to the NDP’s priorities and perspectives, Gélinas said, “I don’t see an NDP government going out to make our hospitals bigger. An NDP government is a whole lot more committed in bringing forward a strong and robust health promotion and disease prevention strategy.”

The office of Deb Matthews, the provincial minster of health and long-term care, was unavailable to comment.

One way the RNAO proposes changing the roles of RNs is by allowing them to prescribe medication and order medical testing, practices currently being considered by other provinces.

Looking at how these proposals could affect Humber’s nursing students, Dr. Kathleen White-Williams said she welcomes what an increased number of available positions would mean for graduating students, but cautioned that a reexamination of the role of RNs would cause a fundamental shift in the way nurses are educated.

“For a new graduate to be able to do those types of things, then the scope of practice for registered nurses will have to change, and the educational component related to becoming a graduate will also have to really have a good look at it,” she said.

Grinspun said acting decisively, effectively, and quickly is important.

Channeling former health minister George Smitherman, Grinspun said, “the time for pilots is over; we know what the health care system needs.”

New toolkit follows housing fund cuts

Residents of affordable housing units, such as those at 100 Lower Ossington, relied on the provincial housing benefit before it was cut.

Residents of affordable housing units, such as those at 100 Lower Ossington, relied on the provincial housing benefit before it was cut.

Recent changes to provincial funding for housing and homelessness has led one policy group to develop a tracking tool to monitor their effects.

The Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based research and policy institute, in partnership with the Income Security Advocacy Centre, released on Jan. 21 a research tool looking into the loss of Ontario’s Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit.

Before the province discontinued CSUMB on Jan. 1, it provided funding to individuals or families receiving social assistance that found themselves in financial emergencies related to unexpected housing expenses.

Funds equal to 50 per cent of CSUMB’s total funding were given to municipal governments with the directive of establishing similar initiatives. With the provincial monies the City of Toronto created the Housing Stabilization Fund to help operate its own housing support programs under the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative.

This significant decrease in funding is one of the primary reasons why the tracking tool was developed, said Steve Barnes, a policy analyst with the Wellesley Institute.

“The real problem is that they took the provincial fund and cut it in half and only gave half the money they spent on CSUMB to the municipalities,” said Barnes.

Toronto’s 2013 operating budget shows an allocation of $23.9 million for the housing stablization fund, a $14.9 million decrease from what was available under CSUMB. The city estimates approximately 49,000 households will be seeking assistance from the fund, similar to the numbers when funding was provided by the CSUMB.

Charles Caravan, manager of research development and reporting for Toronto Employment and Social Services, pointed out the province has also allocated $42 million to municipalities to ease the transition and act as a buffer while long-term strategies are refined.

“For 2013, the City is focused on ensuring service system stability and limiting service impacts for vulnerable residents,” he said.

Housing maintenance continues to be a critical element of Toronto’s overall affordable housing strategy, and the city fund will play a role in that, said Patricia Anderson, a manager in the city’s shelter, support and housing administration.

“The easiest way to prevent homelessness is to keep the housing you’ve got,” she said.

The Wellesley Institute is in the process of verifying the data obtained through their tracking tool, and will be releasing reports on the impact of the end of CSUMB in the coming months.