Tuition fees at Ontario universities and colleges will be slashed by 10 per cent under a new framework expected to be released by the Ford government later this week, but the fate of student assistance programs remains unclear.

Domestic students would pay lower fees beginning in September, 2019, under the proposed revisions, and those fees would also be frozen for the 2020-21 school year.

In a document obtained by The Globe, the government said the proposed changes would “keep more money in the pockets of Ontario’s students.”

The drop in revenue for the institutions will not be made up elsewhere by the government, according to a source who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, declined to comment on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Ms. Fullerton said she would not speculate on what may happen with the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), which was revised under the previous Liberal government to provide expanded tuition grants for low-income students.

International student fees will not be subject to the cut and would remain unregulated at universities, meaning they could be increased. At colleges, fee increases for international students are capped at 20 per cent a year.

For Ontario’s postsecondary institutions, the reduction in tuition fee revenue could have a significant impact on budgets. Universities and colleges have been waiting anxiously to see what policy direction Doug Ford’s government would pursue since he made clear his intent to tackle the deficit. The government has yet to indicate what it will do about provincial operating grants and student assistance.

About one-third of university revenues come from tuition. A 10-per-cent cut in Ontario would remove somewhere in the range of $300-million from the university system.

Linda Franklin, president of Colleges Ontario, said the tuition cut would mean about $80-million removed from the college system. She does not know what other policy proposals may yet emerge, but on its face, a 10-per-cent cut is significant.

“It’s a huge challenge,” Ms. Franklin said.

“Ontario has by far the lowest per-student grant in the country. We have the lowest tuition by about $500 and we have the lowest operating grant by about $1,500, so when you put that together we get about $2,000 per-student less at colleges than the next lowest college system. So it’s a pretty big deal.”

Ontario universities, similarly, have among the lowest levels of per-student funding in the country, and revenue from tuition and operating grants combined have been flat since 2010, according to the Council of Ontario Universities (COU).

The COU declined to comment on the news Tuesday, saying it would wait for an official announcement.

“Students should remain cautious of reports of a 10-per-cent cut to tuition fees,” the Canadian Federation of Students’s Ontario chapter said in a tweet. “We are concerned about the intentions of this announcement and whether it will make PSE more affordable.”

The government estimates that the fee cut will save the average Ontario university arts and science undergraduate student about $660 on tuition in 2019-2020. A college student would save $340.

In recent years, universities and colleges have turned to foreign students to boost revenues as government funding has stagnated, but it’s unlikely they could make up the shortfall caused by the cut to domestic student fees.

The government is expected to formally announce changes to the framework on Thursday.

The Globe and Mail, January 15, 2019