Provincial tuition fee policies more about managing public opinion than accessibility: study

September 9, 2015

OTTAWA—On average, tuition and compulsory fees for Canadian undergraduate students have tripled between 1993-94 and 2015-16 and will continue to rise over the next four years, from $6,971 this fall to an estimated $7,590 in 2018-19, says a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The study looks at trends in tuition and compulsory fees in Canada since 1993, projects fees for each province for the next four years, and ranks the provinces on affordability for median- and low-income families using a Cost of Learning Index.

“Directly as a result of declining public investment in university operating revenue, tuition fees across the board—almost without exception—continue to increase, ” says CCPA Education Director Erika Shaker.

According to the study, Ontario is the province with the highest fees and will see its tuition and other fees climb from $8,691 this fall to an estimated $9,541 in 2018-19. Newfoundland and Labrador remains the province with the lowest tuition and other compulsory fees of $2,862 this fall, rising to an estimated $2,876 in 2018-19.

In spite of these increases, tuition fees have not sufficiently replaced inadequate public funding. As a result, universities have turned to additional compulsory fees that are the less public and less regulated sources of income from students. They include mandatory fees or ancillary fees, technology fees, and library resource fees.

“Alberta’s recent decision to explicitly increase public funding for its universities in order to freeze tuition and other fees for two years stands in contrast to the majority of the other provinces where regulated tuition fee increases has become the norm,” says CCPA Senior Economist David Macdonald.

Provincial governments have tried to mitigate the optics of rising tuition fees, resulting in an increasingly varied patchwork of individualized and privatized systems of university financing. Many provinces (Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and PEI) have implemented de facto two-tiered fee structures restricting access to the province of residence.

“Clearly the public is aware of these rising costs, and all but two provinces have responded by at least regulating tuition fee increases,” explains Shaker. “But in the process we are moving towards a less universally accessible system. Is the priority to manage public opinion, or to reduce the financial burden placed on students and their families as a result of insufficient public funding?”


What’s the Difference? Taking stock of provincial tuition fee policies is available for download on the CCPA website.

For more information contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Senior Communications Officer, at 613-563-1341 x306.