Report: Universities and colleges must improve and cut costs

• Return on investment is poor, says auditor general.

• Colleges failing to deliver on promises to international students.

• Don’t rely on tax dollars, says Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk.

• Higher education is more expensive than it should be.

• Ontario pays too much in tuition fees and provides too little in-house to help students navigate their degrees.

The Auditor General says Ontario higher education institutions could do better at delivering students the education and training they need, according to an update to her 2014 report. In 2014-15, the Auditor General found students took 15 to 16 weeks to complete a full-time degree. She has now narrowed down the reasons, finding:

• Student satisfaction with their institutions is on the decline

• Students are unable to find jobs through Ontario’s new online Jobs Link, an online database of regional jobs

• Ontario tuition fees are too high

• More universities and colleges are turning students away for being undocumented, leaving those in the country illegally without a degree

• Governments are not providing enough assistance in certain courses, such as writing skills and English language acquisition.

But that is all in the past now, says Lysyk. The Auditor General says the province has made great strides with a provincial strategy toward Canada’s universities and colleges, one that specifically targets enhancing student experiences. In 2014, the province entered into a 10-year $3-billion partnership with universities and colleges to create 21,000 new jobs through research and innovation. The province has also increased funding for international students through the Ontario Student Assistance Program, increasing the amount of discretionary funding it provides schools by about 50 per cent.

The Auditor General also looks at the results of a random survey of students at Ontario colleges and university students. The survey found a majority of students are unaware of programs that offer new tools, classes or opportunities to address their career goals and interests. Forty-eight per cent of respondents were not aware of Business Technical Skills Certificates and 60 per cent didn’t know about the SkillsOne program. Overall, just 25 per cent of students met the province’s minimum expectations for college and university education.

The report also ranks Ontario higher education institutions on the quality of their education and training. The results are a failure, says the Auditor General, with Ontario higher education institutions scoring worse than the OECD average on students’ satisfaction and completion rates. Nearly half of international student enrolments are actually funded by taxpayers. The Auditor General says taxpayers contribute up to 50 per cent of the operating budgets for colleges and universities. The report found in-house support must be provided by the institutions to meet the growing needs of students and help them achieve success.

Lysyk says better care should be given to international students at Ontario universities and colleges and that tax dollars should not be used for them. The Auditor General says there are no statewide targets for international students and the province provides only a small number of support services to help students overseas.

She says the Department of Citizenship and Immigration’s mandate as funding the academic career of immigrants is not in line with the province’s international student strategy. She suggests providing a greater number of opportunities for immigrants to gain specialized career skills to address the growing number of labour shortages in the future.

Her report notes post-secondary institutions have largely done a good job in promoting themselves overseas. The Auditor General recommends the government grant Ontario post-secondary institutions the same level of freedom as the province’s universities and colleges in overseas advertising and education. The Auditor General stresses that it is time for post-secondary institutions to recognize the potential the international student population represents for the province.

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