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Canada Ford government rejects Ryerson’s plan for new law school

Ryerson University could still proceed with the law school if it ran a full cost-recovery program.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government has rejected Ryerson University’s bid to fund a new law school, the latest blow to Ontario universities following the cancellation of three proposed satellite campuses and a francophone university.

The Globe and Mail learned that Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton reviewed the proposal and concluded, based on a number of factors including a surplus of students for articling positions, modest wage growth and projected job openings, that another law school in the province isn’t needed.

“Our government has a mandate to restore respect for taxpayers and tax dollars. Part of that process is making sure that the government’s services and programs are efficient, effective, and conducive to job creation,” Ms. Fullerton said in a statement provided to The Globe.

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“My Ministry and I came to the same conclusion, that it was not in the best interest of the people of Ontario to approve the proposal at this time.”

The move represents another setback for Ryerson, which had $90-million in provincial funding for its proposed satellite campus in Brampton cancelled last month. It also comes on the heels of criticism of the government’s decision to cancel a planned francophone university.

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It’s not clear how much the provincial government will save by not funding the law school.

Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi was travelling abroad Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. In a statement, Ryerson said it would continue to work in good faith with the provincial government.

“The Ryerson law school proposal has been approved by three accreditation bodies,” the university said. “We have yet to receive written confirmation of the government’s approval of the program.”

Ryerson could still proceed with the law school if it ran a full cost-recovery program, but that would likely mean charging much higher tuition fees than provincially funded law schools.

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Ryerson’s law school would be the third in Toronto and eighth in the province. It had already cleared several hurdles in a multiyear effort to secure a professional faculty. Its bid emphasized a plan to charge lower tuition fees than those at the University of Toronto law school and York’s Osgoode Hall. The proposal called for annual tuition in the range of $20,000 a year, according to a proposal submitted to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, compared with more than $27,000 at Osgoode and $38,000 at U of T.

Ryerson tried to tackle head-on the question of whether Ontario needed another law school. The university said it would differentiate itself with what it described as a bold, new approach to legal education. Its aim was to focus on equity and diversity, while being a “champion for ordinary citizens and driver for small businesses.”

The school was planning to accept applications for the juris doctor program in 2019, and expected classes to begin in September, 2020.

The program had been in the works since at least 2015. The Law Society of Ontario gave its approval in February, when it said students from the proposed Ryerson school could apply for admission to the law society.

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada, which had the job of determining whether Ryerson’s law school as proposed would meet the requirements of the 14 law societies across the country, granted preliminary approval in December, 2017. That review included whether the school would have the physical structure and personnel to meet requirements.

An internal committee at Ryerson said in January, 2017 that the creation of a law faculty was feasible, subject to two conditions, one of which was receiving appropriate provincial funding. The FLSC said in late 2017 that a denial of provincial funding would make the program unsustainable. Ryerson said at the time it could bridge the gap by charging higher fees, according to the FLSC report.

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Steve Raby, chair of the FLSC common law degree approval committee, said one of the issues his committee flagged was that funding from the province might not meet the levels Ryerson was expecting.

“Our approval is always subject to whatever the provincial government determines,” said Mr. Raby, a lawyer based in Alberta. “Under the legislation they have the ultimate authority to decide what a postsecondary institution can do.”

Mr. Raby said there had been some controversy about whether Ontario really needed another law school, and ultimately that comes down to a political decision, he said.

Ms. Fullerton, in her statement, cited research by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario and the Law Society of Ontario that found a surplus of students seeking articling positions.

She added the employment outlook for lawyers in Ontario is rated as “average,” according to Ontario Job Futures, that wages and salaries have increased at a slower rate than in other occupations and the likelihood of unemployment is higher than in the past.

Chris Glover, the NDP critic, said the rejection of Ryerson’s law school represents a lost opportunity for young people in the province.

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“It’s another postsecondary program being mothballed,” Mr. Glover said. “The postsecondary sector is under attack by the Ford government.”

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