Data check: Ontario is behind on operating funding, research support

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OCUFA is busy planning a University Finance Workshop, to be held on November 13th in Toronto. The inaugural issue of the new Report on Ontario University Finances is set to be released later this month. With these events in mind, Data Check is taking a brief look at university revenues this week. Next week’s issue will turn to university expenses to provide some comparative context for a key theme of the finance workshop – Financial Facts About Faculty.

By now it is well known that, on a per student basis, provincial operating funding for universities in Ontario is well below the average in the rest of Canada. Increased funding a decade ago helped close the gap slightly for a couple of years, but it has been widening again. The Ontario government’s operating funding for 2013-14 was 35 per cent lower than the average across the rest of Canada. Preliminary estimates for 2014-15 indicate the difference will worsen to 37 per cent.

Some of the difference is made up by provincial government policy on tuition. It is a measure of how much the burden for direct financing for universities has shifted to students that tuition fees – even taking into account money paid out in scholarships and bursaries – are now such a large proportion of university budgets that adding them into the financial picture reduces the total funding gap with other provinces from 37 per cent to seven per cent.

Only Québec ranks lower when it comes to total university revenue, including public funding and net fees. Still, the province of Québec is much more generous in funding research. Other measures illustrate this point as well, but on a per student basis the Québec government provides almost double the support for research than Ontario. Compared to the rest of Canada (including Québec), the five-year average level of Ontario support for research is 42 per cent behind the national average.

Data Check last week served as a reminder that operating funds support both the research and teaching missions of universities. Operating funds are also not the sole source of support for universities’ teaching and service missions. The lines between teaching, research, and service activities are fuzzy, and practically speaking the boundaries between the activities supported through operating, research, and trust funds are not so neat as financial reporting conventions might suggest. General operating funds may be used in flexible ways. But it is important to recognize that student support can also be drawn from research and trust funds, and faculty paid from those funds also teach and perform service.

The relative share of combined provincial operating/research/trust funding designated as general operating fund varies from province to province. In 2013-14, the proportion of combined funding from provincial governments designated as operating revenue ranged from 76 per cent to 97 per cent. We will return to this point when we turn to university expenses and the financial facts about faculty in a comparative context.

Faculty association members interested in attending the University Finance Workshop should contact their faculty association about to register for the workshop and introductory webinar.

Canadian Association of University Business Officers, Financial Information of Universities and Colleges
Statistics Canada, Postsecondary Student Information System (updated to 2013 using data from: Association of Atlantic Universities; Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada; British Columbia Higher Education Accountability Dataset; Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire, Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities)

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