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CSA Responds: 2024 Ontario Budget

The 2024 Ontario Budget 

On March 26, the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy, presented the 2024 Ontario Budget: Building a Better Ontario at Queen’s Park. The Budget outlines $214.5 billion in spending for the 2024/25 fiscal year, accompanied by projected revenue of $204.7 billion. This results in a projected deficit of $9.8 billion, which is a significant increase from the $5.8 billion deficit projected in the 2023 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review, and a substantial departure from the $0.2 billion surplus anticipated in the 2023 Budget. Ontario's debt now stands at $462.9 billion, making it the largest debt of any subnational government in the world . With numerous critical areas of need but insufficient funds to address them, it is evident that the provincial government is facing a severe financial crunch. 

What does this mean for Ontario’s College Students? 

When the province announced $1.3 billion in “so-called” sustainability funding for colleges and universities, many, including CSA expressed dissatisfaction. The Blue Ribbon Panel on Ensuring the Financial Sustainability of Ontario’s postsecondary sector recommended an investment of approximately $2.5 billion. Given the federal cap on international student enrollment, this figure should likely be even higher to compensate for the funds lost due to the 50% reduction in international student enrollment facing Ontario’s postsecondary institutions (PSIs).

However, there were no net new postsecondary education (PSE) sustainability funds for the sector allocated in the 2024 Ontario Budget. With a looming deficit of $9.8 billion over the provincial government, expecting additional funds seems unrealistic. Consequently, suggesting “they have done their part”, the province has suggested colleges and universities themselves find ways to make up the funding shortfall. The province's $1.3 billion investment falls short approximately $1.2 billion when compared with the Blue Ribbon Panel's recommendation of $2.5 billion. For illustrative purposes, this would mean Ontario's 47 publicly funded institutions would need to find roughly $25.5 million each to offset provincial underfunding, a daunting task.

Although the province has previously announced $15 million to help colleges and universities identify appropriate efficiencies, achieving efficiencies significant enough to provide institutions with financial relief will likely impact the student experience. Among other effects, pursuing efficiencies may result in program reductions, fewer available seats, limited technology advancement, and cuts to critical student services.

Through Bill 166, the province is expecting universities and colleges to demonstrate greater accountability, transparency, and adherence to mental health standards, as well as addressing hate/racism and fees. The province is allocating $23 million to enhance mental health supports and $8 million to implement the mental health objectives of Bill 166, this is a positive step towards safeguarding student services on campus, particularly when seeking to achieve efficiencies.

More broadly, with the province's objective of filling careers in the trades and healthcare, program efficiencies will likely be focused on areas outside of healthcare and trades, potentially impacting program availability, quality, and space for individuals seeking careers outside of the government's current objectives.

There is also concern that international student tuition may further increase to compensate for lost funds. International students already face unpredictability and a high cost of living in Canada. Establishing a predictable international student tuition framework was one of CSA’s key recommendations in our pre-budget submission to the minister. With an international student cap and inadequate provincial funds, there is a risk that colleges and universities will further raise international student tuition, potentially affecting international student outcomes and diminishing Ontario’s attractiveness as an international study destination.

Finally, there was no mention of the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) in the 2024 Ontario Budget. In CSA’s pre-budget submission to the Minister, we made three specific recommendations in relation to OSAP including a refocus on grants over loans, the removal of interest on provincial loans, and the extension of the grace period for loan repayment. CSA is disappointed that these issues were not taken seriously in relation to OSAP, especially during a cost of living crisis.

Financial Projections

Though the province's projections have not materialized as expected, the Finance Minister remains optimistic that things are looking up. Next year, 2025/26 the deficit is set to half, at about $4.6 billion. The year after that, 2026/27, a surplus of $0.5 billion is expected. In regards to postsecondary, spending is projected to increase year after year, though not significantly. Because Ontario is facing an approximate 50% reduction of the international student population and college finances are consolidated with the province, the $1.3 billion investment is offset by international student tuition losses of around $800 million. 

New Provincial Investments

The province did make some net new non-sustainability related investments in postsecondary:

  • Removing double fares for GO Transit and increasing the PRESTO discount for postsecondary students.

  • Investing $27 million over three years to enhance sexual assault and domestic violence services across the province to help victims and survivors receive compassionate and professional support directly within hospital settings. This is especially important for PSE students who are vulnerable to sexual assault. 

  • Investments of over $485 million to support Health Human Resources initiatives, including the ongoing expansion of nursing and medical school seats and the Ontario Learn and Stay Grant where students in targeted nursing, paramedic and medical laboratory technologist programs study and work in underserved communities.

  • Investment of $743 million over three years to address immediate health care staffing needs, as well as to grow the workforce for years to come, particularly in the nursing field. 

  • Ontario is investing over $62.9 million in two of the province’s foundational programs to help more than 18,000 young people explore careers in the skilled trades, including: $21.1 million to expand the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), a specialized high school program that gives students who have completed Grade 10 the chance to explore the trades through cooperative education courses, while completing their Ontario Secondary School Diploma; and  $41.8 million to launch approximately 100 pre‐apprenticeship training projects around the province to help young people get firsthand experience working in trades, including a paid work placement with a local employer. This funding for skills development and training programs will help train the skilled workers needed to build transit, hospitals and at least 1.5 million homes by 2031.  

Next Steps 

CSA will continue to advocate for proportional investments by both the province and colleges that better protect the college student community on campus, in the classroom, and in the community. Throughout this transformative era, we continue to prioritize student choice, program variety, accessibility to essential student services, and the affordability of education and associated costs of attending college. 

“We acknowledge the investments made in postsecondary and we certainly understand the constraints brought about by a $9.8 billion deficit,” says Azi Afousi, CSA President.  “However, it is the responsibility of all levels of government and Ontario’s colleges to work together to ensure they are efficient and are providing a sustainable well funded PSE sector that values students as key contributors to Ontario’s future economic growth and prosperity.”

With that said, CSA commends the government for extending the domestic student tuition freeze, introducing Bill 166, announcing the $1.3 billion investment in postsecondary institutions, and announcing the expansion of nursing, health care and trades related programming. CSA will remain vigilant by monitoring both the province and colleges as they navigate these changes, and will continue to advocate for the needs of all students on campus.


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