While now consigned to the dustbin of history, the 2014 Ontario Budget was a puzzling document. Although it explicitly sought to “strengthen our competitive advantage, create jobs, and provide vital public services” and “foster a fair society,” it nevertheless overlooked the worrying funding trend at the province’s universities.
“Ontario’s universities have the capacity to achieve all of the government’s social and economic goals,” said Kate Lawson, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA). “What’s more, they also help create healthier, more engaged, and more equal society. Investing in universities builds a more prosperous and fair Ontario, so it is strange that the Liberal government didn’t make higher education a stronger priority.”
Ontario currently has the lowest level of per-student funding and the highest tuition fees in Canada. Increased public investment would allow universities to preserve the quality of education while ensuring they remain affordable for students and their families.
According to the 2014 budget, operating funding is scheduled to increase by 2.9 per cent over the next three years. However, after inflation (as forecast in the Budget) is taken into account, the increase turns into a decrease of 2.2 per cent. For universities, the real drop in total operating funding is more like 2.5 or 2.7 per cent. Funding per “eligible” student – those for whom universities receive provincial operating support – will fall 7.5 per cent over the next three years.
Real per-student provincial funding has been falling since 2008-09, but this coming year it will be its lowest since the Liberals came to power in 2003. By the end of the current planning horizon in 2016, it will be its lowest since the expansion started in the sixties.
This is an unacceptable outcome, with serious implications for the quality of university education in Ontario. Whoever forms the next government, it is vital that they reverse this downward trend in funding.
“Ontario’s professors and academic librarians are committed, as always, to improving the quality, affordability, and sustainability of our universities,” said Lawson. “While today’s budget is regrettably quiet on universities, we hope the next government will be a strong partner in our work.”