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Postsecondary cuts not solution to deficit, poll finds

A student navigates the University of Toronto Campus Monday, Oct 1, 2012.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

A majority of Ontario residents are reasonably satisfied with the quality and affordability of a university education, but believe there have been few improvements to postsecondary education in the province under the McGuinty government, a new study from the province's association representing faculty has found.

The economy, jobs and the deficit were all rated as foremost concerns, ahead of the cost of university education, with 87 per cent of Ontarians agreeing that lowering the provincial deficit is important. Still, when probed further, a third of Ontarians also said lowering or capping tuition fees is the single most important thing the government should do for university education in Ontario, and more than seven in 10 oppose cutting provincial spending on universities.

The poll results show that Ontarians value university education but are struggling to balance that conviction with desires for quality education as well as fiscal responsibility, said Constance Adamson, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, which represents 17,000 professors and academic librarians.

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"I think there's a level of anxiety, as well. ... Especially those that have kids in university, they're living it," she said. "That's complicated by the understanding that universities and colleges are key to getting the economy back on track."

The poll was commissioned by the association as part of its annual conference taking place in Toronto Thursday and Friday, which this year focuses on the impact of austerity on academia.

The results appear show the ongoing battle between teachers and the province at the elementary and secondary level has shaped the public's view of the government and public service unions: 56 per cent of respondents have little trust in the information provided by unions representing the postsecondary sector, a number exceeded only by the 63 per cent who don't trust Premier Dalton McGuinty and the 61 per cent who lack trust in the media. (OCUFA and university administrators scored much higher levels of trust).

Nevertheless, more than a third of respondents believe a future Liberal leader would be better equipped to handle coming challenges than NDP leader Andrea Horwath or PC leader Tim Hudak.

"It is interesting," Ms. Adamson said. "Even though the (Liberal) tuition rebate doesn't seem to have had much of an impact, at least they see them trying. They are acknowledging that you can do something and wrestling with it."

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