Colleges and universities are set to receive “financial support” from Queen’s Park as the Ford government looks to shore up post-secondary institutions that have raised concerns about their long-term financial survival.
Global News has learned the province plans to offer its “official response” later this month to the government’s blue ribbon panel on the post-secondary sector, which focused on the financial sustainability of the province’s 47 publicly assisted colleges and universities.
The expert group, formed in March 2023, concluded the Ford government’s 10 per cent tuition cut and subsequent freeze in 2019, combined with historic underfunding of post-secodary education, posed a “significant threat” to the viability of the sector.
The panel recommended a one-time increase of 10 per cent in per-student funding in 2024-25 and further funding increases of at least two per cent a year.
It also recommended a multi-year framework in which tuition would increase by at least five per cent in 2024-25, and two per cent a year for the remainder of the timeline.
While the government is unlikely to increase tuition, especially as the province struggles with an affordability crisis, funding for post-secondary institutions seems to be on the table.
A senior government source told Global News the province’s response to the panel’s report would “include financial support” for colleges and universities. It is unclear, however, whether the government will implement the full financial recommendation outlined in the blue panel report.
In the wake of the federal government’s two-year cap on international students, the Ford government is also working to create a new mandatory attestation system to verify university and college application approvals.
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Colleges and universities have warned that international students have been stuck in limbo since the Trudeau government implemented immediate limits on how many overseas students would be allowed into the country.
The provinces have been tasked with creating a system to deliver a letter of attestation for students that they can include in their applications for a study permit from the federal government, as part of Ottawa’s attempts to crack down on loopholes and abuse of the international student system. The Ontario government has until March 31 to launch its verification system, with Quebec the only province that has a pre-existing verification system for international students.
While the Ford government is currently examining Quebec’s mandatory certification process, the province is working with the post-secondary institutions to create a provincial approval process ahead of the end-of-March deadline.
Ontario was also dealt a 50 per cent reduction in the number of international students it’s allowed to approve and was given the task of allocating permits to individual institutions.
A senior government source told Global News the province has a notional cap of 235,000 international students is looking to distribute those numbers “as evenly as possible.”
The government, however, expects a 60 per cent approval rate of college and university applications, potentially pegging the total number of study permits issued at 140,000.
With high demand for Ontario post-secondary schools, a government official expressed concern about creating a “bottleneck” once the attestation process is approved.
Advocates for post-secondary institutions in Ontario have been pushing for changes to the federal government’s policy, suggesting the government’s broad application of the new rules will risk the financial health of the institutions.
The Council of Ontario Universities said at least 10 universities are projecting operating deficits this year of a combined $175 million.
According to the blue ribbon panel report, colleges have increasingly relied on international student admissions to stay financially viable and keep the lights on as domestic tuition has dried up.
On Friday, Global News asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whether the federal policy will be fine-tuned to ensure the financial viability of institutions.
“No, the financial viability of institutions doesn’t stack up against the well-being of people who want to learn,” Trudeau said, suggesting Ottawa won’t overhaul the recently implemented policy.
“Colleges and universities are not in it for profits, they’re in it to give quality educations and this pause is going to allow us to do exactly that,” Trudeau said.
The Ford government is also warning the post-secondary sector that even with the 140,000 provincial allocations for international students, immigration officials have offered few guarantees that those who receive an attestation letter will automatically get a visa.
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