The hard lessons of college privatization

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As Ontario's college professors return to work after a contentious five-week strike over precarious working conditions, many Ontarians are left wondering how the college system got into such a state in the first place.

How is it that as more than 70 per cent of our college professors are stuck in part-time or contract positions, earning substandard wages and no job security at all?

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says a big part of the answer is privatization.

"[Former Conservative Premier] Mike Harris totally changed the college system for the worse," Thomas says. "The system used to be fully public, but Harris changed it so the colleges would act more and more like businesses.

"And this is what you get when you try to run schools like a private business: profits come before quality education. Profits come before students."

Ontario students aren't the only ones who've been hurt by college privatization.

In 2013, the provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador undertook a privatization experiment with its college-level Adult Basic Education courses. 

As with many privatizations schemes, the proponents promised that tuition would go down and attendance would go up. The opposite occurred.

Documents obtained by CBC in 2016 showed that under the scheme, tuition "spiked" by 88 per cent and enrolment fell by 30 per cent.

Earlier this year, the current minister of advanced education said that he's seriously considering bringing the program back in-house.

"I said a year ago that the decision back in 2013 to eliminate ABE from the college could not be supported by any evidence, financial or administrative," said Minister Gerry Byrne.

"The numbers that were cited by the government of the day could not be verified."

 


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