The proposed Ontario budget was released this past week, leaving post-secondary institutions happy and collective student groups underwhelmed.
“With this budget, our universities will continue to operate with the least per-student funding and highest tuition fees of any province, while teaching quality and student success remain pressing issues,” said Sean Madden, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA). “While post-secondary education has been spared from more harmful cuts, we feel like this was a missed opportunity to begin investing in these important issues.”
The budget will help open up the educational system, as overall post-secondary education funding — which includes education, training, and student assistance — will increase annually by 1.9 per cent over the next three years; however, it lacks job creation, which I argue is just as important. After all, who cares about education when the piece of paper at the end of the road isn’t guaranteeing a job?
The in-debt budget, set to overspend by $15.2 billion and increase the province’s $237.6 billion debt, has very little focus on job creation. The budget is set to maintain the $3.5 billion the government spends on business tax incentives, grants and training, in order to make the province more competitive.
Still, the budget reports that “employment is forecast to increase by 0.9 per cent in 2012, or 59,000 net new jobs.” That figure is down from 1.7 per cent in 2010 and 1.8 in 2011, meaning there will be less job creation this coming year than in the past two.
Meanwhile, OUSA remains focused on issues that affect universities directly — access to education, tuition cost and debt, educational quality, mental health, food costs, etc; but who is advocating for the recent graduates who are having a tough time finding work? I would have no problem paying more for a better education and racking up more debt in the process, if it meant that I would get a job that would help pay down that debt — which is, on average, around $27,000 per student loanee. In fact, a report says that is what many students are currently doing.
As a TD economics report, aptly titled “The plight of the young workers,” pointed out: Current poor job prospects are forcing many students to return to school or earn another degree, racking up more debt in the process or else they face less earning power in the future.
“Several studies have shown that those who graduate during a recession take a substantial hit to their initial income that does not close for many years. Unemployment immediately post-graduation erodes a graduate’s skills and competitive edge,” the TD report said.
Stats Canada released their labour force survey earlier in March, and the results are not enthralling. It might be one of the worst times to graduate from university in Ontario. While the overall unemployment rate has dropped to 7.4 per cent, unemployment among 15 to 24 year olds is still at a dismal 14.7 per cent unemployment rate and has not improved. Employment was down 2.8 per cent — equivalent to 69,000 jobs — from a year ago.
One in five students will give up on school and not graduate; likewise, the unemployment rate is actually lowered because people have given up searching for work and are not counted for among the labour force. Even still, high unemployment affects everyone in the demographic seeking work as our labour is being undervalued.
“It has been estimated that a one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate equates to an initial wage loss of six to seven per cent, and that it can take anywhere from 10 to more than 15 years to close that gap,” the TD report said.
For the majority of university graduates, it seems to be a crap-shot whether they will find meaningful full-time employment in their field. Not only do we have to compete amongst ourselves for job prospects, which are being impacted as older workers delay retirement, but we also face competition from older workers reentering the job market. Going back to school isn’t always the best option as becoming more specialized doesn’t suddenly improve the job market.
Things might not be completely grim, as there are still jobs being created out there, but students face significant challenges going forward in the world outside the classroom. There are lots of groups pushing for better post-secondary experiences, but there are no groups advocating for the graduates now entering the job market.