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Canada Ryerson going ahead with law school after Ontario government rejects funding

Ryerson University building in Toronto on July 6, 2017.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Ryerson University plans to open a new law school by 2020 despite having a key funding request rejected by the Ontario government last month.

The Progressive Conservative government informed Ryerson in November that prospective law students would not be eligible for the Ontario student assistance program (OSAP), a significant blow to a program that pitched itself as a lower-priced, accessible alternative to other law schools.

Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said he has been seeking a meeting with Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, for several weeks to explain Ryerson’s position, but has yet to receive a response.

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The government’s decision was surprising because Ryerson wanted a relatively small financial commitment, he said.

“We are not asking for new funding,” Mr. Lachemi said. “Even in terms of OSAP, this will not cost the government extra money.”

The government’s position is that a new law school, which would be the third in Toronto and eighth in the province, is not in the interests of Ontarians. It cited concerns that there are too many lawyers and too few articling positions in the province. But it won’t stand in the way as long as Ryerson asks for nothing financially.

“The government would not discourage Ryerson University running the program on a full cost-recovery model,” said Stephanie Rea, a spokeswoman for Ms. Fullerton.

Ryerson was one of three universities that had funding for the construction of new satellite campuses that had been approved by the previous Liberal administration, revoked by the Ford government in October.

Ryerson is now approaching some of its donors to ask for funds to help get the law school off the ground. A key to its proposal was that tuition would be much lower than at other law schools. Ryerson proposed charging tuition of $20,000 a year, compared to more than $27,000 at York University’s Osgoode Hall and more than $38,000 at the University of Toronto.

If students are unable to get Ontario student assistance, whether in the form of loans or grants, it will be difficult to offer the program at that price. The hope is that part of the funding gap can be bridged by donors. The university is still studying its cost projections to determine by how much the tuition price will have to rise.

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"We’re seeing how we can minimize the increase in cost,” Mr. Lachemi said.

The university does not need capital funding for any new buildings and was planning on funding the students through a re-alignment of the funding envelope it already receives from government.

Mr. Lachemi said that, if the Doug Ford government is focused on delivering “for the people,” as its slogan states, it ought to be willing to provide a few million dollars a year to a law school that plans to focus on improving access to the legal system for ordinary Ontarians.

A search will soon begin for a new dean of law, who will be hired before September, 2019, when Ryerson plans to start accepting student applications. The president said he anticipates that the law school will open on time in September, 2020.

The university will hire five new faculty to teach law in each of the program’s first three years. It has already received preliminary approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC), the body that oversees law programs nationally, and from the Law Society of Ontario. The university senate gave its go-ahead in March, but an internal committee at Ryerson said a year ago that the creation of a law faculty was feasible only if it received appropriate provincial funding. The FLSC said similarly that a denial of provincial funding would make the program unsustainable.

Ryerson has already told its academic senate that it will be able to bridge the fiscal gap. But it will have to return to the FLSC with a revised budged before the end of March, 2019.

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