Tuesday 2 June 1992

Student assistance

Ministry of Colleges and Universities

Dr Bernard Shapiro, deputy minister


*Chair / Président: Beer, Charles (York North/-Nord L)

*Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Daigeler, Hans (Nepean L)

Drainville, Dennis (Victoria-Haliburton ND)

*Fawcett, Joan M. (Northumberland L)

*Martin, Tony (Sault Ste Marie ND)

*Mathyssen, Irene (Middlesex ND)

*O'Neill, Yvonne (Ottawa-Rideau L)

Owens, Stephen (Scarborough Centre ND)

*White, Drummond (Durham Centre ND)

*Wilson, Gary (Kingston and The Islands/Kingston et Les Îles ND)

Wilson, Jim (Simcoe West/-Ouest PC)

*Witmer, Elizabeth (Waterloo North/-Nord PC)

Substitutions / Membres remplaçants:

*Cunningham, Dianne (London North/-Nord PC) for Mr Wilson (Simcoe West)

Lessard, Wayne (Windsor-Walkerville ND) for Mr Owens

*Sutherland, Kimble (Oxford ND) for Mr Drainville

*In attendance / présents

Clerk / Greffière: Mellor, Lynn

Staff: Personnel: Drummond, Alison, research officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1535 in room 151.


Consideration of the designated matter pursuant to standing order 123, relating to student assistance.


The Chair (Mr Charles Beer): If I can call our meeting to order, this is a meeting of the standing committee on social development. We are dealing with standing order 123 relating to OSAP. At this time, I'd like to ask Dr Bernard Shapiro, the Deputy Minister of Colleges and Universities, if he would come forward. We're going to deal with his response.

Mr Hans Daigeler (Nepean): Before Dr Shapiro begins his presentation, do you have any indication as to whether the minister will still be coming still in the half-hour that remains, as I had made a request at the beginning of the hearings?

The Chair: The minister is not able to be with us, his office has told us.

Dr Shapiro, we have scheduled 30 minutes. The way in which the time for these hearings has worked out, we have a little additional time. If there are some questions that take us beyond 30 minutes for a little bit, if you're agreeable, perhaps you could stay and we could just flesh out a few other questions, if in fact that arises. Very good. Would you begin your remarks, please.

Dr Bernard Shapiro: Perhaps I could begin by saying that what I'm planning to talk about this afternoon is not really so much a response as it is a set of what you might call closing remarks. I've kept up with the transcripts of all the meetings the committee has had. I've read and reviewed them all and I don't feel the need to respond to the issues in particular, but I do want to talk about a few things that I think would be of interest to the committee. I would be glad of course to answer questions on any issue at all once I'm through.

I think that it has in fact been very helpful for us to follow the hearings and the various statements that were made. Most of the people who appeared in front of the committee are representative of the constituencies that are also on our advisory committee, so we've been hearing from them in that capacity as well. Nevertheless I do look forward to receiving the report of the committee because I think it will be very helpful in helping us to try to formulate how we want to go forward with OSAP. One is always committed in principle to having the best possible program, which never seems to mean you do exactly what you want but does seem to mean you try to get as far as you can with the resources being made available.

There were many issues raised by the committee members. I'd like to summarize my own comments in three different areas. One has to do with meeting students' financial requirements, one has to do with managing the debt load of graduates and, finally, other issues related to the administration of OSAP. Although I've chosen to focus on these particular areas, I'd be glad to answer questions on these and any other area in which you have a particular interest.

Before I go to the three issues, and specifically the first one on meeting the financial needs, I'd like to give you some sense of the overall scope of OSAP in terms of the finances, just to keep it in mind for us. The total amount of assistance provided by the province in 1991-92 consisted of two main parts. There is first of all the Canada student loan program, $345 million which we accessed. Then there was the Ontario part of the program, $235 million in study grants and $88 million in loans. That's the main feature of the financial part of the program.

Based on our examination of the total assessed allowable costs last year, of the $668 million expended in student assistance funding, $214 million, or 32%, was spent on tuition and compulsory fees; $194 million, or 14%, was spent on books and equipment; $287 million, or 43%, was spent on personal and living allowances, and then there was $73 million, or 11%, that was spent on all other costs, a variety of different miscellaneous costs, either for special needs or other kinds of special purposes. You can see that the assistance itself is not simply a matter of what you might call the direct educational costs, it's not simply a matter of what tuition and books might cost, but also a matter of living allowances and other kinds of costs associated with being a student, especially if you're not living at home.

When OSAP was established in the 1960s the primary focus was, I think a number of people have noted, on young, unmarried, childless students, mainly immediate high school graduates. Therefore, financial needs were at least relatively easy to find for a group that was that homogeneous. Over the past two decades, however, the diversity of student circumstances and needs has grown and the profile of a typical student has changed. The present student body is composed, at least to a greater extent than before, of mature students, part-time students, single parents, native students, disabled persons, refugees and new immigrants.

To illustrate the point, our statistics for 1991-92 tell us that 30% of our recipients are over the age of 24, 60% are women, about 8% of all recipients are sole-support parents and, still a very small number, only 1.2% of recipients are part-time students. It is this sort of increased diversity in that student group which results in significantly different financial needs which are in many cases not being met by the current program and were the initial impetus for launching the review at the beginning of last year.

As a result of the consultations with our general advisory committee and other stakeholder groups, it has been identified that the program could more adequately support some students, especially students with dependants and mature students, and finally graduate students. Those are the three categories least well treated, at least in the current program arrangements.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, in order to provide students with greater access and assistance to post-secondary education the ministry is currently exploring several options, some of which include alternative loan programs, gearing payment to income and accessing the federal assistance program differently.

As you've heard previously, every dollar of additional grant assistance costs a dollar, while a dollar in loan assistance costs approximately 40 cents. It is evident that a larger amount of assistance could be provided to students through loans; however, as mentioned previously, and this will get me to my second topic, debt load management and the perception of potential debt by low-income students are important issues which have to be addressed as part of our review.

Let me return for a moment to the debt load management issue. As you have already heard in the detailed presentations from witnesses, there are a variety of opinions regarding loans and repayment models. What's important for the committee to keep in mind is that with the Canada student loan program, which is over half the total program, we as a province do not have the flexibility to change the process or the repayment structure. It should be noted, as I say, that the Canada student loan program is just a bit over 50% of the total program.

That doesn't mean, I should add, that we can never convince the Canada student loan to make a change; it's just that we can't get the change by announcing it. We would have to negotiate it. We have in fact been negotiating various kinds of possibilities with the Canada student loan program, none of which have produced results thus far, but I don't think that's a reason it can't be done.

So, for example, if we think in terms of the income-contingent loan repayment plan a number of people have mentioned, the cooperation of the federal government is crucial on two grounds relative to that. One is to act as the collector, that is, just to act as a collecting agency through the income tax system. It would be horribly expensive for the province to do that on its own and relatively straightforward for the federal government to do it, should it agree to undertake it.

However, the second thing would be even more important: Would they agree to redefine the Canada student loan program so as to be consistent with our preferences, so that we could then access the entire thing as a sort of conceptual package rather than a bunch of little packages, which is both very hard to explain to students and hard to manage when you're starting to plan for the future and imagine what it's going to be like when you're a graduate.

The Canada student loans system has a traditional repayment structure made up of fixed payments at specified dates and periods. At the present time there are a number of policy changes being considered by the Canada student loans for 1993-94, and their policy direction will form an important basis to work from in determining the type of provincial programs that best supplement federal directions in a manner appropriate to provincial accessibility concerns.

It's a double kind of negotiation. They are interested in some changes as yet unspecified and not terribly clear; we're interested in considering changes, and so the negotiations will go on to try and find a coherent package. It bears some relationship, for those of you who are at all familiar with the recent negotiations over the Canada-Ontario agreement on training, where one of the priorities of the government was to try and get a single system of local committees, a single system for provincial training, rather than a duplicate system or parallel systems of a federal system and a provincial system leaving the consumer to always worry about which one to access when and how to make them work together. I don't know if we'll be successful but we'll certainly make the effort.

Throughout the process, we are of course cognizant of the fact that the amount of debt a student will be responsible for managing should not deter an individual from entering post-secondary studies. Here it really is a bit of a psychological conundrum in a sense; that is, the debt loads for the average Ontario student at the moment are not among the highest in Canada and not among the lowest either. We're sort of in the middle, roughly speaking.

What is the case is that the psychological perception of debt varies with what it is you owe over. For example, students find it very difficult, for reasons I think we need to be respectful of, to think of owing, let's say, $10,000 or $12,000 for their education. They don't have the same difficulty over owing the same amount relative to a car. It's a different psychology. It has to do with the society we're in and how people value different things and how they see the choices that are available to them. We just have to learn how to deal with that and perhaps how to shape it to some extent as we move along.

However, the point we have to keep in mind is that we don't want people not to come to colleges and universities because they think it's impossible. Our sense of it is -- we've begun to do some work on that this year -- that in order to make that a likely event, in order to make it likely that people not currently considering post-secondary education as an option would at least consider it, we really have to work very much earlier. We have to be working with parents and students when they're in grade 9, grade 8, grade 7, grade 10, and not in grade 12; that's far too late. In most cases, the choices have already been made.

Let me finally address the comments expressed regarding the administration of the Ontario student assistance program. These comments are mainly related to the processing of assistance applications, timing as to student payments and general perceptions of the inefficiencies within the current structure. As most of you are probably aware, we are currently experiencing a significant increase in the volume of student assistance applications compared to 1990-91; $50 million in additional assistance was provided in 1991-92 as a result of a 25% increase in applications. We think we may face the same situation again this year; it's very hard to tell. What we know is, we're having many more applications earlier. That doesn't mean there will be more in the end. It's hard to know whether students are just applying early or whether there are going to be more. We'll have to wait and see.

The funds available to administer OSAP represent only 1.5% of the total combined federal and provincial assistance. It's a fairly efficiently administered program from that point of view. I feel, however, often like I think the Chinese authorities must feel; that is, the more they struggle to increase the productivity of the economy, the more the productivity seems to be eaten up by an increase in the birth rate. So although continuous improvements get made, they don't result in a higher standard of living because there are just more people to deal with.

To some extent this has probably been happening in OSAP. On a sort of absolute scale, we've accomplished what I consider to be miracles of efficiency in using the new technology to decrease the turnaround time and have more efficient responses etc. But of course the horror stories keep emerging because we haven't been able to apply sufficient new resources to cope with the increase in the number of applications. If we were having the same number of applications we had two years ago, the turnaround time would be less than a quarter of what it was two years ago simply because we've installed new systems to deal with it. But we haven't been able to do that and we've just got to keep at it, hoping that at some time our resources will catch up with the number of people making applications.

It is of course our intention that the new OSAP will be less complicated, if at all possible, and will therefore result in better response time for the applicants, because that's part of the problem. The more complex a program becomes, the harder it is to apply for and the more likely it is you'll make an error in applying for it or not fill out the application form correctly. We found, for example, by simply redesigning the application form, which is something we did for the last round, we reduced by about half the number of applications that had to be processed just by making it simpler to understand what it was we were doing.

We hope to also improve communications with our delivery partners and clients. So, for example, as we develop the new systems in Thunder Bay, it's going to be possible for the person who answers the phone, no matter who that is, to call up the file on screen in front of him so he can deal with all aspects of the student's questions and not simply, "We'll deal with this one and I'll transfer you to so-and-so who will deal with that one." We hope that will at least make for some improvement.

Naturally, actual changes to the overall administration have been deferred until the policy review is complete and the precise nature of a new program is determined; that is, we're not going to change the overall system until we know what the new program is going to be like. We'll try to have a system that makes sense relative to that program.

Finally, I would just like to express my appreciation to the committee members for the opportunity to address you on the matter. I'm certainly prepared to answer any questions you raise, at least to the best of my ability.


The Chair: Thank you very much, Dr Shapiro. We have some time. I think we'll begin with Mrs Cunningham.

Mrs Dianne Cunningham (London North): Thank you for your concise report today. I have a couple of questions. I totally missed the last points you were making with regard to policy review. I wonder if you'd expand upon that.

Dr Shapiro: In the last one I was talking about the administration of the OSAP program. The problem we're always having -- it sometimes unfortunately reminds me of the complaints I sometimes hear about workers' compensation -- is that there are always a lot of complaints about what the response time was, how we dealt with appeals, whether or not we'd sent the cheques out on time and things of that sort.

We have been trying in a variety of ways to use the new technology that's been made available to us in Thunder Bay to improve the efficiency with which the program is administered. I think we have been successful. As I was saying earlier, I sometimes despair because, although we're more efficient in a sense, we haven't been able to keep up with the huge increase in applications. Although we've had improvements in the turnaround time etc and the decrease in appeals and stuff like that, they haven't been nearly to the extent we would like. So that's one issue.

The second part of the issue is that once we decide what the program is going to be like, there may be new opportunities for figuring out how it's to be administered. But we can't decide that until we know what the parameters of the program are going to look like. To take a relatively radical example, one that might not be one we actually consider in the end, one could imagine the entire program being administered by the financial aid officers in the institutions. As long as we have the appropriate parameters in place and we have the appropriate portability arrangements so students would be able to move from institution to institution, that's one possibility. We will certainly consider it once we know what the total program is going to look like and what that would involve.

On the other hand, if we don't do that and if we continue with the office in Thunder Bay, we will be asking ourselves: Is there a more efficient way to run this program? It isn't simply a question of how to run it more quickly; it's how to run it better, that it's housed so that the response time gets lower and lower so the cheques get delivered on time. It's those kinds of things, so that the service to the clients, in this case the students, is really first-rate, and that when it collapses, as it will do with that number of students from time to time, the students feel it's easy to access somebody who can help them with this.

Those are the kinds of policy considerations we're concerned with. I've been hesitant to think clearly about them until I know what the parameters of the program are going to be, because we want to design it for the program, not the other way around.

Mrs Cunningham: My assumption is that you probably already have some ideas with regard to the federal program, the Canada student loan program, where the changes could be made.

Dr Shapiro: Yes.

Mrs Cunningham: I'm very familiar with the negotiations that have been going on around the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board. I have some observations I'd be prepared to share with you. I'd happily share them with the committee, but they'd just take too long. I'm sure you must have some specific things you would like to see changed. If you do, I think it would be important for the committee to see them.

Dr Shapiro: My view is a little different, but I will tell you what it is. In my ideas about the Canada student loans program I have a first preference, a second preference and a fallback position. My first preference is that we should administer the program and spend it in any way we think appropriate for student assistance. All I want from the federal government is the $365 million, and I'd then like to design it as one coherent program for the whole system. It's very much like the Quebec -- it's the opt-out option. We tried to move forward on that option earlier this year because the legislation governing Canada student loans provides any province with the option to opt out in the administrative part of the program.

When the federal government heard, simply because we told it, that we were thinking about moving towards the opt-out procedure, it decided to change its rules; it felt that if we opted out and Quebec opted out -- and the Northwest Territories have already opted out -- then there'd be no national program left. They weren't willing for us to do that till they've had a chance to rethink their whole program, so it was not possible for us to do that. That was our first preference.

My second preference is to try to work out a complementary program with the federal government so as to make sure the two programs fit well. For example, one of the dangers under the current definition of the Canada student loan program is that if we go to, say, income-contingent repayments for tuition fees, that will disable us from accessing as much of the Canada student loan money as we have now, because it's defined for tuition. So we don't want to do that. That would be an example of contradictory programs and would just disable the province from accessing as much student assistance money as we now have. I want not to fall into that category. That's my second objective. If we can't have the money to operate as a single consolidated program, at least therefore we've got to negotiate some way to have a complementary program so we don't cancel each other's objectives out.

The fallback position is always a fallback position in the federal system, and that is, you wait for the Canada student loan program to say what it's going to do and then you do something that complements it, but that's a very dangerous situation to be in because you're always waiting for what's going to happen in the next throne speech and having to turn yourself upside down in order to access the funds that are now made available under a different set of rules. So I'm very much hoping to have one of the first two options.

Mrs Cunningham: Maybe the committee's report will be helpful.

Dr Shapiro: I hope so, and I look forward to it. I meant that when I said it.

Mrs Elizabeth Witmer (Waterloo North): I do appreciate the response you've provided, Dr Shapiro. We talked about debt load. Would you just review with me, once a student has completed his or her education, what type of arrangements are made and what role the provincial government plays?

Dr Shapiro: The student loan program is a question of a negotiation between the student and the bank, not between the student and the government. The loan is negotiated with the bank in the first instance, whether it's a Canada student loan or the Ontario student loan, and you work out with the bank the appropriate repayment arrangements. It's usually done about six months afterward. The whole debt is consolidated, the interest is no longer subsidized, because we've been paying the interest up until then, and then a specific payment plan is worked out. It can be different for different students. Generally it doesn't run to more than 10 years. The student and bank can sign anything they want, but it generally doesn't run more than that.

The role of the provincial government is simply, for our part of the loan, to guarantee it if the student doesn't repay the Ontario student loan portion. The federal government guarantees if the student doesn't repay the Canada student loan portion. That's the current arrangement.

Mrs Witmer: I guess one of the things that's happened to me personally this year is that, for the first time ever, I have had students who feel hassled by debt collectors and who have left university, obviously can't find jobs and are unable to make the payments, and that's creating considerable emotional and financial hardship. There always is the perception that somehow the province needs to do something differently, but as you've just explained, it's not its responsibility once students complete their education.

Dr Shapiro: There are some opportunities for people who find themselves in difficulty to ask for some further relief from the program. There are some opportunities -- not many, but there are some. I think if they're being hassled by debt collectors that early in the game, it's certainly not the provincial government doing that, because they would still be dealing with the bank.

Mrs Witmer: Exactly.

Dr Shapiro: I should say, however, that if the student isn't paying the bank and we end up reimbursing the bank, we do turn to collection agencies to collect from that student if at all possible. If it's not possible, we just write the debt off, but you could be hassled by someone on our behalf, but not that soon after; it would be years afterwards. It wouldn't be immediately, because you'd still be dealing with the bank.

Mrs Witmer: But there is that possibility.

Dr Shapiro: Yes. Oh, there is that possibility.

Mrs Witmer: I appreciate that clarification.

Dr Shapiro: That's one of the reasons, quite frankly -- and I don't know whether it's a good thing or a bad thing -- that our loan default rate is very much lower than that of the federal government, because we do collect the debt where we can.

The Chair: You told us that when you were first here. What is the --

Dr Shapiro: I don't remember, to be honest. I can find out for you. We do know what the comparison is. It's certainly less than 5% on the provincial side. I just don't remember the exact figure.

The Chair: I was going to say that 4% came to mind, but we'll check.

Dr Shapiro: I just don't remember.

The Chair: Okay.

Mr Daigeler: Don't misunderstand it, Dr Shapiro, as a slight to you, but I still think the minister should have at least shown the courtesy to appear before the committee at one point in time. I find it very hard that he did not find a moment to address some of the policy issues that really surround the questions that we discussed. But seeing that we have to "make do" with you --

Dr Shapiro: Consolation prize.


Mr Daigeler: -- I will ask some questions of you that touch somewhat on the minister's position. Let me ask, first of all, what is the process in your ministry? When your officials prepare papers, are they seen by the minister before they are sent to your various consultation committees?

Dr Shapiro: That would depend on the particular topic and at what stage these consultations were going on and the purpose of them. For example, sometimes when you're consulting with people to try to get their best ideas about something, one doesn't need an elaborate pre-preparation process and it would just be up to them to consult and then try to gather ideas together etc. But I think when we're getting, as we are in this case, closer to actually putting together a report for one or other of the cabinet committees and various policy consideration groups, we would almost certainly share with the minister the ideas we have that we want to consult about before we actually go out and do the consultation.

Mr Daigeler: Would you say that the question of the move to an income contingency repayment plan is a matter of significant policy importance and shift and you would definitely involve the minister in at least showing him and getting his tacit approval on what is being circulated as discussion material?

Dr Shapiro: That's right. That is, we wouldn't usually be asking the question, "Is this what you want to recommend?" We would tell the minister: "This is what we're intending to share. Is this a problem for you?" So we wouldn't be asking him to make the policy decision that far in advance.

In many cases, as well, when you're dealing with an advisory committee of this sort you are often sharing things that don't originate from the ministry but originate from some other source altogether. That is, when the committee gets together, the paper gets put on the table, some of which came from the ministry and some from whoever else is at the table. So the committee itself might end up considering a lot of things that have never been shared with anyone. It just emerges in the process.

Mr Daigeler: You're saying, though, that you would be sharing with the minister the documents just to see whether they would create any difficulties.

As you probably have guessed, I'm talking about a specific document I have in front of me and that I will be sharing with the committee. I'm surprised it wasn't shared before by yourself with the committee. This is a document that was in fact prepared by your officials. It's a March 9 memo by the assistant deputy minister putting forward pretty significant and firm proposals on how OSAP should be reformed and how interest should be charged and income contingency plans should be instituted.

I understand that in fact you -- and I'm sure that will be of interest to my social democrat friend across the room -- have received representation from the Ontario Federation of Labour which describes these proposals as horrific. "The latest proposals which you distributed are far more regressive than anything that has been considered in recent years....This package is a frontal attack on equity and accessibility. We find it shameful." This is the director of education of the OFL.

You will understand that I'm trying to get a feel from the minister above all, but since you are here on behalf of the ministry, whether this submission by your assistant deputy minister reflects your view and the views of the minister. As I indicated, Mr Chairman, I will be tabling this package with you for distribution to all members of the committee.

Dr Shapiro: I think it would be quite safe for me to say, reflecting both my own view and that of the minister at the moment, that we are not anywhere near having decided which proposal or model is likely to be one that we're willing to recommend to our colleagues, either at the civil service level or at the political level.

What we've tried very hard to do is consider almost every imaginable model, and there are supporters for almost every imaginable model. We tried very hard to bring all of these things forward. We've responded to people who've suggested we have loan-only programs; we've responded to people who've suggested we have grant-only programs. We've done a lot of work on the income-contingent issue, because the Ontario universities had a lot of interest in it and we tried to help them do their modelling on that ground. We've talked about subsidized loans; we've talked about unsubsidized loans. These are all modular parts of an eventual program, and we just haven't, either the minister or myself, come to some conclusion about which, let's say, two or three options would make sense to discuss really seriously with our colleagues and pursue.

That's the task that's ahead of us in the next several weeks. I don't know when this committee's planning to have its report available, but it would be very helpful for us to have it as soon as possible, because then we would be able to take it into account in trying to figure out where we should find ground that would be common with that of the committee. But it is not the case that either the minister or myself has decided that this is the route we're pursuing. We haven't gotten anywhere close to that.

Mr Daigeler: I certainly appreciate that clarification. It makes me feel a little better and I think it makes at least some members of the public feel better, although I think the memo was really quite direct in the way it described the plans. Be that as it may, I take you at your word that you're looking at all options at this point and I appreciate that this particular memo is one of the options.

At the beginning of these hearings you told us that you had to cancel a meeting of the advisory committee -- I forget the precise title -- that is looking at --

Dr Shapiro: It's a general advisory committee, but I'm not sure myself.

Mr Daigeler: There are so many committees working here and there. In any case, we know that what we're talking about is the advisory committee on OSAP. Has the committee now met? Is it going to continue to meet? There seemed to be some hesitation when we met a few weeks ago.

Dr Shapiro: It has not met. It is going to continue to meet, but the reason it has not met has very much to do with the question you just asked, because we feel it would be inappropriate at this stage to begin to meet with the committee until the minister has made some choices about the kinds of directions, or at least the range of options, he's willing to consider. We want to bring those forward to the committee, and we'll do so, but not until he's made that choice. So we deliberately have not scheduled a meeting with the committee. My hope is that it will meet well before the end of this month, but we'll have to wait that out and see.

Mr Daigeler: Do you think we should push the minister a bit to make up his mind?

Dr Shapiro: I think that's up to you.

Mr Daigeler: I was sure you'd say that.

Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I'm thankful for this opportunity to speak with you again at the end of what I thought was a very enlightening process of listening to folks who have a very, I think, sincere interest in this whole question. From everything I heard, it seems to me that it could be summed up in a number of ways, but for me in this way: One of the things is to try and find a way of bringing more resources into the system of delivering post-secondary education to students in Ontario. There are certainly some options out there, things we might look at.

The question in some people's minds is, do we do it as a corporate responsibility and put money into the system that will be spent in a way that will allow for an equity of distribution and access, or do we do it in a way that puts the onus of the burden on the particular individual who wants to access the system? There were various scenarios presented and I'm sure this discussion probably happened over the table at the review you're taking part in.

We heard a lot about the income-contingent repayment plan. It seems to be the hottest and newest model being looked at. The fear from some sectors is that this model may move more and more towards greater responsibility of the individual to participate in the funding of post-secondary education, and that certainly raises some concerns from people around the question of access, the whole issue of debt load and the fears people have in front of that.


There was another option that wasn't discussed as much as the income contingency one that I would maybe like to throw out today and perhaps explore a bit with you and get some response to, because I think it's an important one to consider. It flows more from the notion that perhaps there is a corporate responsibility here that needs to be exercised as opposed to loading more and more on to the shoulders of individuals.

In light of some of the comments you and others made in terms of the changing demographics in the post-secondary grouping of people, I guess we might consider moving away altogether from having any tuition fees. That would lessen the load on people and create less need for moneys from OSAP. We might look at a more integrated program of assistance connected with the social assistance system so that people who go to college could access the system the way others do if they fall below a certain line in terms of their income, considering that there are lots of people who have a family, who want to go back to school, who are forced to go back to school; and there are people who are connected to a family but it's a sort of nebulous connection. There needs to be a more formal way of identifying that.

Has there been much thought given to that particular notion? I think, particularly from the comments you made, that if we're going to change the system maybe we need to do something bold. We seem to have been tinkering with it for the last 10 or 15 years, trying to find an answer that will work, and as you said, sometimes when you're up to your knees in alligators it's hard to remember that your initial intention was to drain the swamp. Certainly the income-contingent repayment plan is a bold step forward. I shouldn't say "forward" because that's sort of putting a judgement on it.

Dr Shapiro: It's a bold step.

Mr Martin: It's a bold step; that's right. Perhaps another bold step that might be considered is this one of dropping tuition fees and allowing students to access the social assistance system that's out there and in that way put the onus more on the corporate sector.

Dr Shapiro: I understand that. I have a number of things to say about it. The first is that we really do have to keep in mind that the review of the OSAP program had two motivators, an initial one and then an added one. It's worth keeping that in mind. Initially we were trying to take a look at the OSAP program because we thought it just needed reform; there were too many different kinds of students falling through the cracks and we needed to sort of rethink the criteria of the program and how one might improve its delivery, etc. That was what we called phase 1 of the review, if you remember my remarks from the opening day.

The second phase of the review, of course, had quite a different motivation. As the government began to review its spending programs, trying to manage within the fiscal constraints facing the province, it was asking the question whether there was a way to administer this program that would cost less money. That obviously leads you down a different path, or at least it might lead you down a different path than the first one did. So there are those two motivations.

From the point of view of the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, just in providing post-secondary education, other things being equal, it would make things far simpler for us and far more straightforward for everyone if in fact there weren't any costs for post-secondary education, just as there are no costs for attending elementary and secondary school. I clearly understand the advantage of that. On the other hand I think it's only fair to say that Ontario's post-secondary system has almost the lowest per capita cost in the western world. Only France and Italy are lower, so it's a reasonably efficient system, at least as those comparisons go. Therefore, we're not in any position to reduce in a sense the income flow to the institutions without providing some alternative.

Now, the alternative you were suggesting as that rather than have this income flow from the individuals who attend the institution, have it flow from the public treasury as a corporate response to the need for post-secondary education. That would certainly resolve a lot of the problems you've heard talked about earlier during the hearings. It would not resolve the Treasurer's problem, however, in trying to deal with the fiscal restraints he's got to face.

It's only fair to add that it all interrelates to something else; that is, it can be said, after all, that individuals benefit from participation in post-secondary education. It's not just society that benefits; the individuals benefit as well and therefore they might be expected to make some contribution towards the achievement of that benefit. But that doesn't necessarily need to be done through tuition; it can be done through the appropriate taxing system at the other end. If you have a tax system that you regard as fair, then that takes those kinds of things into account.

I think the notion that might be a little less radical than the one you suggest, one which I like and which I think I brought forward when I was here the first time but I'll mention again, is that we design an OSAP system to cover direct educational costs and design a social assistance system to deal with the balance. It makes a lot of sense because it makes for a much more coherent public policy. It would, however, be a more expensive public policy because the OSAP standards for support are lower than the social assistance standards for support. It's not something that's easy to be proud about, but nevertheless it is the case.

I think the possibility of moving from an individual to a more corporate responsibility for these things is a real option conceptually, although there are people who will argue against it in terms of the kinds of individual benefit notions that I mentioned earlier, but it doesn't seem to be an immediate option in terms of the fiscal realities we're facing. I suppose one could always say that's just a question of what you decide to spend your money on, and I suppose that's true.

Mr Martin: Has there been any work done at all in determining some of the synergies that might be present or efficiencies that might be taken advantage of by combining some systems and allowing people, through the social assistance system, to be in college and university as opposed to out there looking for jobs that just aren't available?

Dr Shapiro: I understand. We do have a number of things moving in that direction, moving in that area. Under Jan Donio, who was with me the last time, there is a small group discussing OSAP issues with the Ministry of Community and Social Services to try to see whether, if we can't go to the program I've just been describing, we can at least meld the two programs better so that people know who pays for what, how it's accessed, where you get the benefits etc. They are discussing that possibility, and of course in all the training programs that are going on now and in various discussions that we're having on the college system, we are trying to not only provide regular programs, but open up special programs to people who are on social assistance so as to help people off social assistance. I don't know if that's what you were getting at with your question.

Mr Martin: Yes, that certainly was part of it. If you were not administering a very complicated tuition-OSAP program, you might be able to make savings that then could then be turned back into actual programming in schools.

Dr Shapiro: I think that is true. The savings would not be huge, as the costs aren't huge for the administration of the program, but they are not zero. It does cost something. It not only costs the ministry directly, but of course it also costs the institutions because in administering a financial aid program they have costs as well. But our costs, as I said, are about 1.5% of the total, which means they're somewhere around $11 million or something like that.

The Chair: Time for one question from Mr White.

Mr Drummond White (Durham Centre): One question, but I had several: I have a rather academic question. We're at the end of these hearings. I've been struck by the number of very interesting presentations that have been before us, and frankly so many of them come from the academic community. They seem to be theses. I don't see nor have I heard a great deal of research into how this would actually affect people, and yet I'm sure we must have had research. We must have comparisons with other communities, states in the United States and other countries. The only presentation which I can recall having been fairly substantial in terms of the research values was that of the francophone community. That gentleman showed how the present system worked very effectively for his community and how they have particular needs.

I guess what I'm concerned about here is that this seems to be an area of significant policy. The whole question of accessibility and who we are investing massive amounts of provincial dollars for, I think, needs to be examined, yet I don't hear that this program will benefit these people or this program will emphasize the accessibility for middle-income people, whereas this one will not.

There was also no reflection of the fact that in the last 20 or 30 years, since OSAP was first developed, the population of post-secondary institutions has changed dramatically and the system has not changed to reflect that change in its clientele. I didn't hear that substantively from anyone other than a minor aside and I guess I'm concerned about two things: a lack of solid information upon which to base a decision, which isn't clear at the moment, and a lack of address to the fact that the clientele has changed significantly.


Dr Shapiro: I think several things. First of all, solid information is not even conceptually available, let alone actually available, because solid information depends on having a situation in which you can compare a variety of alternatives to see what happens and a set of comparable situations isn't available.

What we do have and what we know a lot about is the effect of various financial aid programs on the composition of student bodies. We know, for example, there are a lot of jurisdictions out there, some of which provide no tuition, some provide free tuition and a living allowance and some charge very high tuition. There's a whole range of options out there and if you just look at the result of those, you find it has absolutely no effect on the socioeconomic composition of the student body.

The thing that leads people to make the choice for post-secondary education does not seem to be the cost, or at least not the upfront cost of post-secondary education. Much more powerful in this respect are family and parental expectations, the extent to which people are willing to give up or forgo income in order to have something different at the other end and variables of that sort. It doesn't seem to relate to whether or not you provide zero tuition or living allowances in addition, for example.

We do that because we can look at the various parts of the world, assuming they bear some relationship to Ontario without trying to pretend they're exactly the same, because they're not, but that doesn't really doesn't have an effect. It's more a matter of symbolisms, it turns out, than a matter of actual consequence for who attends. All these countries have some of the same problem we do, which is that the post-secondary education system is to some extent the class-based system. The people who attend post-secondary education tend to be middle-class, upper-middle-class, or at least people from those kinds of families, whereas people from less-advantaged backgrounds, at least less advantaged in that sense, tend not to make that choice nearly so often and it doesn't seem to matter which system of financial aid you use.

To some extent we are dealing with what we think will happen, not what we know will happen. In that sense, your comment is quite fair, but it's not because we wouldn't make the effort to find out. We just don't have the context in which it's possible to make those judgements, at least not really solid evidence.

On the question of the composition of the student body, you are certainly right in some respects. As I said in my own closing remarks, the composition of the student body is changing gradually. It's not changing nearly as dramatically, at least sometimes, as we would like, I must admit, but it is changing gradually in the direction we think is appropriate. It's a more heterogeneous group. It's more reflective of the population as a whole. There've been huge changes in the gender composition of the student body.

But there's another thing that's changed quite rapidly too, which we think about as we go to a different OSAP: The return to education at a later date is now much more frequent. Something that initially seemed quite appropriate -- we would limit OSAP to the first four years of a post-secondary education -- is no longer so sensible as it once seemed because, if we're going to talk about lifelong education, we have to deal with you when you need it, not when we thought you needed it when you were young. I've often said that my mother still can't cope with the notion that life has changed. She thinks you go to school and then you go to work and that's that. Life has got more complicated for most people. That reflects her real experience. It's not that it just doesn't reflect that, it's just got more complicated.

One of the things we have to do as we try to redesign OSAP is to be more responsive to our own rhetoric. If we're going to talk about lifelong education, then we have to be there when the students need it, and it's not just, I should point out, a question of OSAP in this regard. I don't know, because I don't remember the transcripts in detail, whether, for example, anyone has raised issues such as paid educational leave, which is a much more dramatic possibility. It's going to have to be dealt with sooner or later, not necessarily only for colleges and universities incidentally, but for all kinds of other training programs, if we're really serious, if we're really going to meet people where they are and try to move it.

My hope for the OSAP proposal we bring forward is not that it will accomplish all of these things at the same time but that it will set out a set of appropriate standards and expectations and at least begin to move towards them. I don't suspect we'll be able to do it all at once. The resources simply won't be there for it, and not only the resources but to some extent the imagination and the consultation and the consensus. Nevertheless we want to try to set out standards and then at least move the program towards them, and if we don't quite meet it, at least we know where we're going.

The Chair: Dr Shapiro, thank you very much on behalf of the committee for your remarks this afternoon. You had asked when the report of the committee might be available. It is certainly our intention that it would be tabled in the House before we rise. I was going to say in June, but we may not rise in June. But it would be our intent to table it before we break for whatever summer recess may lie ahead. Thank you again very much.

Dr Shapiro: Thank you.

The Chair: Members of the committee, we now turn to a discussion of our report.

Mr Wayne Lessard (Windsor-Walkerville): I just have one issue I want to bring up, and this is a response to a question that was raised on May 11 by Mr Wilson. He was asking a witness, Ms MacCormack, whether there was any study that had been done to let us know how much it would cost to eliminate the current grant eligibility period, which is limited to eight terms, and if we were to eliminate that, how many of the 18,000 graduate students would require financial assistance. The witness was unable to answer and Mr Wilson directed that question to myself. As a result, I've checked with the ministry and the response is that the ministry is not aware of any such studies.

The Chair: Thank you very much for that.

In proceeding to discuss the report, I think everyone received a copy of a memorandum from our research officer, Alison Drummond, and what I thought we might do is to ask Alison if she would just review that memorandum orally, and then we can get into a discussion of exactly where we want to go.

It would be my suggestion, if it's agreeable to members of the committee, that we would reconvene on Monday, June 15. We would have approximately an hour at that time to look at the report, finalize it, and if we were to follow that schedule, I think it would then be quite feasible to table a report before we rise. That would be my suggestion in going forward at this point, but perhaps it is useful if I just ask Alison to run over the questions she put to us and then we can open it up in terms of exactly where members would like to go. Alison?

Ms Alison Drummond: Lynn seems to be looking after this, but it was actually handed around to the committee last week, so I hope everybody has copies now.

I finish off with the two major questions I have. First of all, I've presented one way of arranging the evidence we've heard from witnesses. Even when committees don't choose to make recommendations on particular issues -- and the committee heard a whole range of issues being addressed in the last three weeks -- I would ordinarily summarize what we've heard, even if the committee chooses not to address that issue specifically.

Starting at the bottom of the first page, I've organized -- this is a possible way of organizing the report -- under major headings of "Background" and "Directions For Change" and then recommendations that the committee chooses to make. If the committee is agreeable to that arrangement of the evidence and the hearings, I hope we can proceed to the more substantive question of what the recommendations will be.


The Chair: I had discussed last week with Alison, when we weren't able to meet, that I thought in the interests of time we would probably want to have a summary of what had been presented and some of the proposals advanced by the different witnesses and that she could perhaps get started with that. I think we'd agree we have had some pretty substantial testimony with respect to the workings of this system and the kinds of proposals that are on the table and being looked at.

I'm wondering if in terms of our discussion now I might ask first of all, before talking about recommendations, if members agree that in drafting the report Alison would begin with a summary of the various submissions that were made and note any specific and particular proposals for change that were made. Is that agreeable?

Mr Daigeler: I think the outline that's before us can stand. It sounds reasonable to me. I think the main question that the researcher raised, and didn't mention so much right now, is whether we should focus exclusively on the income contingency question or have the broader review of OSAP touched upon. I would say that it should be both. I think the researcher mentioned that herself somewhat.

I think probably the primary focus will be on the income contingency issue, because it happened to come to the fore most of all and I think was the prime question addressed in the original question to be studied by the committee, but not to the exclusion of the other issues that were raised. For example, the deputy minister addressed some today surrounding the OSAP question. What has been prepared for us so far sits quite well with me.

Mr Martin: I have to agree. I think since all of us are up to our eyeballs in other work and business --

The Chair: I thought you were up to alligators.

Mr Daigeler: That was just to the knees.

Mr Martin: Yes, I've obviously missed the part of the anatomy that is usually referred to. Anyway, it would make sense that Alison put together a report. From my perspective, although some of my colleagues may feel differently, I think she's laid it out rather nicely here. What would flow from there would certainly, I hope, be circulated to all of us so that we might respond to it and feel comfortable with whatever report would go forward to the ministry.

I would not want, though, to place sole emphasis on the income-contingent repayment plan. That certainly was an item that was addressed on more than one occasion during the review, but there were other suggestions made by other groups that I think have as much legitimacy and need to be referred to in the report. I hope we would explore the vast array of suggestions that were made and present them in some of the light shed by some of the presenters. I have no difficulty with following the proposal being put forward here and then reviewing it.

My experience of other 123s, though, has been that each caucus brought its own report to the table and then there was a report developed in response to some of those concerns. But that took some time and created some discussion across the table that in some instances, in my own experience, wasn't all that productive.

The Chair: One of the things we talked about was in terms of the background summary and the various proposals that have been brought forward. It seems to me that is reasonably clear and could be brought together.

I think the issue then in terms of the recommendations we make, what members might like to have -- if, say, we want to come back on the 15th and we would still have an hour that day to review the report and the recommendations -- I want to ask Alison this -- in terms of the timing, as a draft or drafts were prepared, what each caucus could be doing would be looking, as well, at what the more specific recommendations are that each caucus wants to make. It may well be that at the end of the day we're in fairly general agreement, or not, but I think you're quite right, that is really something each caucus would want to focus on.

Mr Martin: Another process we followed in the 123s I've done so far, as well, is that in order to save some time the subcommittee met to consider a report that would be brought, and if it looked like it would get some general acceptance from everybody then it would cut back on the amount it went back and forth.

Ms Drummond: If I can just quickly address these issues of timing, what I am hoping is to have a draft for circulation to the full committee on the 11th. I'm hoping to distribute a copy of the report to the committee on the 11th so that everybody on the committee will have a chance to look at it over the weekend before we come back on the 15th. Then, if the subcommittee decides to meet before that, it would be a good opportunity to consolidate recommendations, for me to look at recommendations. When I've worked on 123s in the past, I've often been given recommendations from each caucus and there tends to be a good bit of common ground. The areas where there isn't a consensus can be focused on in the full committee meeting.

Mr Martin: I think Mr White wants to comment.

Mr White: I just want to add a couple of points. Most of the testimony we've heard from witnesses has had to do with a choice between two different systems. Frankly, I am concerned that we may be going from a system that everyone recognizes as being flawed, as having some major problems, to another one that may well have some advantages or some disadvantages but may not in the long run be preferable.

I think we should be looking at a couple of things. Perhaps we need to have different systems for different people. We're not dealing with all 18- to 21-year-old, white, middle-class males, but rather with a range of different people from a range of different backgrounds, and one program that would fit for one group may not fit for another.

I'm also concerned, as I mentioned a few moments ago, that this is a major issue in terms of policy and I'm not sure that we as a committee, or the ministry, have sufficient information upon which to act.

One issue is whether we should be looking at a choice of yin and yang, of black or white, or should we be looking at a system that might well be a variable, depending upon the clientele and the people involved. Further, do the needs for financial assistance vary relative to the institution that's involved, not just the person but also the institution? If one's going for a six-month course at a community college, will one have the same needs as one does with a four-year BA at a university, or again with a private vocational school or vocational training which might be part-time or full-time?

The other concern I would have is around values. We addressed the value issue earlier in our work. I think there may sometimes be a conflict between the values we are endowing the system with, the things that are important as far as we're concerned, the issues around accessibility, affordability, the debt load issues. Are those concerns intrinsically conflictual with the institutions that person is attending? For example, are the people who were worried about a debt load going to be in one of those seven-year-long PhD programs and end up with a debt load they can never escape from? Those are just basic issues that concern me.

The other minor difficulty I had is with the proposed directions for change next to the third bullet that says "the economic benefits of post-secondary education, to both the individual and society." I would suggest changing that to simply "the benefits of post-secondary education," because I think there are greater social benefits than economic benefits alone.

The Chair: I understand we may be able to correct the microphone situation if we have a short two-minute hiatus. I will adjourn the committee for two minutes.

The committee recessed at 1640.


The Chair: We are now back live and on the air in living colour. In terms of the comments Mr White just made, I wonder if in the time frame that has been suggested, that we look at meeting again on the 15th, if we could get a draft and if each caucus could then focus on the nature of the recommendations. I think it would be quite appropriate, responding to the point Mr White made, that one would want to perhaps put that into a certain context as part of the recommendations. You spoke in terms of values. That might be a good way to approach it.

The subcommittee could then look at what those proposals were, to see where there were areas of agreement and harmonize those. Then at the end we could focus our discussion either on the areas where there is not agreement or on other things that may arise. I think we should use the subcommittee to try to deal with as much of that as possible, so that in the hour or so we would have at the end of the whole 123, we could focus specifically on the recommendations, because I think there is a pretty general agreement on the nature of the summary and the description.

Mr Martin: I buy that. I think that's a good process. We'll try to come up with a set of recommendations that we'll present to Alison, who can then incorporate them into her report in some way. Then, as a subcommittee, we can have a look at that to see if it's acceptable or not.

Mr Daigeler: What are we talking about now? I thought we'd get the report and then take a look at what recommendations will flow out of that report. Isn't that what we're talking about?

The Chair: Yes, although I think that would help in expediting things. We'd probably want to have a meeting of the subcommittee, I would think, perhaps on the 9th next week to look at what we think ought to be some of the recommendations. I'm just trying to expedite our work.

Mr Martin: Yes, I think it would expedite the process if Alison had some sense of what we saw as important out of this so that we don't come in cold on the 15th with all these recommendations that are just not in the report. What I'm saying is that we as a caucus are going to bring forward to Alison some of what we think should be in the report and then she can do with it --

The Chair: Why don't we agree that as each caucus's recommendations or proposals are developed, we'll just share them, and also with Alison?

Mr Martin: Yes, that's a good idea.

The Chair: That way we all know where we're at, so when we get to the 15th that would expedite that discussion. Would that be all right? I know she's trying to have a draft that we could circulate to everyone on Thursday the 11th. Perhaps we could say that by the 9th we would have a sense of recommendations -- and I'll speak to the Conservative members as well -- but that doesn't mean there can't be others that come forward on the 15th.

What we might do as well, as we're going to have something like an hour of time left for the committee, is if there's a need on the Monday for a meeting of the subcommittee prior to the full committee, we can schedule our full committee meeting, instead of for 3:30, for 4 or 4:30, if that makes sense. Does that sound like a useful way to proceed?

Mr Daigeler: I guess the Tories gave you full power to act.

The Chair: They did. It's a rare opportunity that I have. I would just say to those watching that I discussed with the two Conservative members, who had to leave, that this process would be agreeable to them.

Mrs Yvonne O'Neill (Ottawa-Rideau): Where is the translation of the report, or do you intend to do that?

The Chair: I'm sorry?

Mrs O'Neill: How will the translation of this fit in with presenting this before the end of the month?

The Chair: That will work. I'm confident that will work. We've looked at it and if we can get it finalized on the 15th that will work out. As I said before, it may be that there's a little more time in any event.

If that's agreeable to everyone, I would suggest we adjourn until the 15th. At least at the moment, we would meet after routine proceedings, but the subcommittee can determine the exact hour. Thank you. We're adjourned.

The committee adjourned at 1648.