On Monday, July 14, the Liberal government introduced a new budget identical to the one that sparked the recent election. And with a majority in the legislature, this budget is certain to pass. So what does it mean for higher education in Ontario? In short, small funding increases in some areas, but a continued slide in the level of per-student funding for universities.
Over the next three years, operating funding is scheduled to increase by almost three per cent. However, taking account of inflation and enrolment growth, operating funding will actually decline. For universities, there will be a real drop in total funding – something like 2.5 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. As OCUFA noted in its analysis of the 2014 Budget, 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, it would be its lowest since the higher education system began its expansion in the 1960s. All of this means that Ontario will remain in last place in operating funding per student compared to other Canadian provinces, and continue to have the highest student-to-faculty ratios in the country. We’re educating more students with less money than ever before.
Funding in other areas of university operations will also be increased but fall short of need. There will be an additional $500 million over 10 years for deferred maintenance. This is still a long way from the average $380 million per year the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) estimates is required simply to maintain the existing infrastructure. Research infrastructure will receive $250 million over three years, and there will be some new funding for specific research initiatives, such as the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo and for the Trillium Advanced Manufacturing Network at Western.
Universities create jobs, train students for success in future careers, conduct economy-boosting research, and help build a more equitable society. We can’t afford to let this under-funding continue.