Ontario budget ties college funding to performance

Performance-based funding for colleges to jump from 1.2% to 60% by 2024

The first budget by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government will see a major change for how funding is allocated to colleges and universities in the province.

The 2019 budget said that when the current Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMA) between Ontario’s 45 publicly assisted colleges and universities and the government expire in 2020, the new SMAs will tie up to 60 per cent of funding to “performance outcomes” by 2024.

This will be phased in at 25 per cent for the first year of the SMA, then rise annually by increments of 10 per cent for three years and 5 per cent in the final year in 2024-25.

“Forcing colleges and universities to compete for the majority of their funding poses a huge risk to many post-secondary institutions, particularly in remote and northern communities, as well as smaller campuses, who will be at a huge disadvantage,” said Nour Alideeb, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario.

The metrics that will measure colleges and universities performance will be reduced from 38 for colleges and 28 for universities to 10 for each sector that align with the government’s priorities. 

The budget stated that institutions can “weigh the metrics that best reflect their differentiated strategic goals” and be “measured against their own targets and historical performance.”

“Instead of investing in the services people count on — like health care and education — Doug Ford is starving them of desperately needed funding,” said Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in a statement. “Instead of giving children better schools, Ford is taking their teachers away. And instead of giving students more opportunities, they’re attacking colleges and universities.”

Faculty retirement age

The budget also identifies the average retirement age of faculty has been increasing in the university sector, citing a study by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), stating that “this has cost implications, as these employees tend to be paid the highest salaries and benefits.”

In 2006, age was added as a protected ground in Ontario’s Human Rights Code, which meant that mandatory retirement at age 65 could no longer be enforced, as it would be discriminatory.

The HEQCO report found that faculty working after age 65 rose from “next to nothing” to 1,239 or 9 per cent of full-time university faculty by 2016.

The budget stated that the government would amend the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities Act and would consult with the sector.

“If they were really serious about improving our colleges, they wouldn’t have cancelled the College Task Force that our members successfully bargained for,” said OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas whose union represents faculty at the 24 public colleges in Ontario. 

The budget also stated that the government would “maximize commercialization opportunities” by creating an expert panel to develop a provincial intellectual property framework for the post-secondary sector.


Apprenticeships and skilled trades

The budget stated that the government’s vision for a “modern, client-focused apprenticeship and skilled trades system” will be implemented in four main ways.

  • A new governance framework to replace the Ontario College of Skilled Trades.
  • A new financial incentive program for employers to train apprentices.
  • A single digital portal for apprentices.
  • Promoting apprenticeships and skilled trades as a pathway from “kindergarten to Grade 12.

“The one-window application process will ensure more people enrol in apprenticeship training,” said Linda Franklin, the president and CEO of Colleges Ontario. “This is a major step in producing a more highly skilled workforce to help close the skills gap.”

Previous legislation by the government has already reduced the journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio and placed a moratorium on trade classifications.


Tuition and student assistance

The budget confirmed prior announcements to 10 per cent tuition reduction for domestic students, cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program, and allowing students to opt-out of non-essential ancillary fees.

“The students of today are the workforce of tomorrow,” said Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli in his budget speech. “To help them succeed our government is making a college or university education more affordable.”

Fedeli estimates the tuition cut will save parents $450 million a year and changes to OSAP will ensure that 82 per cent of grants go to students with a family income less than $50,000. 

Students with a family income of $130,000 or more are no longer eligible for grants, and loans must now make up at least half of student assistance for low-income students. 

“This budget will leave students with more debt and fewer services as a result of the Premier’s politically-motivated attack on democratic students’ unions,” said Alideeb.


K-12 education

The budget confirms that increasing the average number of students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 classes. In Grades 4 to 9 the average class size will be 24.5 students and from grade 9 to 12 the average class size would be 28 students.

“The cuts to one in four classroom teachers mean much more than ballooning class sizes,” said Harvey Bischof, President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. “Tens of thousands of daily classes will disappear and program availability will dwindle.”

The budget also announced an investment of an additional $3.7 million for a revised First Nations, Metis and Inuit studies curriculum for grades 9 to 12 and the Indigenous Graduation Coach Program. 

$500,000 is also slated for physical activity over three years as seed money to school boards to partner with third-party organizations to promote cricket at schools in Ontario.

The government also plans to be the first province to have a “Parents Bill of Rights” which could include the right of parents to “withdraw their children from lessons, classes and schools that are teaching content they do not agree with, and allow parents to express an opinion about what their child is being taught in the classroom, especially with respect to health and physical education.”

A new math curriculum will also be developed to ensure that students have a strong understanding of fundamentals and be phased in over four years moving away from “discovery math” to traditional formulas and memorization.

New teachers will have pass a math test to be certified to teach in Ontario the government will provide funding for teachers who are currently in the system to take qualification courses in math.


Ontario budget ties college funding to performance