Some Toronto students are following in the footsteps of their Quebec colleagues who took to the streets to protest tuition fees in the fall of 2011.
A group of students at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law have started a petition against the annual eight-per-cent increase for first-year tuition fees. So far, roughly two-thirds of the student body has signed it.
Joshua Mandryk, one of the U of T law students who started the petition, says there’s no real rationale for jacking up tuition by eight per cent every year.
In previous years, Mandryk says students were told tuition increases were needed to boost professors’ salaries and help retain them.
“But we’ve since moved beyond that point and now we have normalized eight-per-cent tuition increases still, and there’s not really a lot of explanation coming from the administration,” he tells 4Students.
That is something Benjamin Alarie, a professor and associate dean at the law school, is hoping to change.
“I can understand the reaction and the concern [from students.] I think the challenge is providing enough information so that students understand the broader context about the fiscal challenges facing the university. It’s a communication challenge and we’re working on that part,” he says.
Alarie explains the annual increase is required to keep up with academic inflation.
“The cost of satisfying our obligations increases steadily over time, and without corresponding provincial [government] increases to our funding, we need to find a source to finance those inexorable budget increases,” he says.
He admits the largest portion of the budget goes towards staff and faculty compensation.
“The rate of increase of staff and faculty compensation is the product of a mix of collective bargains that have been struck and arbitration awards by labour arbitrators, and so there’s not much scope for the law school and the university generally to resist that part of the academic inflation.”
Continually boosting tuition levels also creates an accessibility issue, argues Mandryk.
“We want [the administration] to work to close the gap between tuition fees and financial aid, and we don’t want to move towards a U.S.-style system where school costs $50,000+ [per year],” he says. “Given the administration’s desire to become a Harvard of the north, a lot of us are concerned that they’re going to try and just keep these increases going until we reach parity with these top U.S. schools.”
First-year tuition at U of T’s law school is currently $27,420 — the highest in the country — with Osgoode Hall Law School next at $21,455. If U of T continues with its annual eight-per-cent increases, in five years first-year tuition will reach $40,289. However, U of T is not unique in bumping up its first-year tuition by eight per cent as this seems to be the going rate at the other Ontario law schools.
Even with the help of financial aid, $40,000 per year is not something most students could afford. As a student who receives financial aid, Mandryk says it isn’t enough to offset the ever-growing tuition levels.
“Even those of us who get a good amount of financial aid, we graduate with large debt loads still,” he says.
According to Alarie, the law school gives out $3.7 million annually in financial aid.
“The faculty is quite committed to making the law school financially accessible and we want to do our very best to make sure that all the students that we admit are able to come and that our tuition is not an insurmountable barrier to deserving students to study here,” he says.
Mandryk wants the law faculty to work with students to find a sustainable alternative. Alarie says the doors are always open for ways to improve the situation, and they are also working with the Students’ Law Society to ensure students are aware of the reasons behind the tuition increases.
“We are in a very tough spot,” says Alarie. “To a significant extent, we would love to have an alternative to tuition increases. It’s not obvious what that is, and so we’re constantly on the lookout for creative solutions.”