OCUFA clarifies inaccuracies in report on university sustainability

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Two weeks ago, HEQCO released a report on university sustainability in Ontario. More concerned with definitions than data, the report nevertheless contained several inaccuracies. OCUFA president Judy Bates wrote to Harvey Weingarten, CEO of HEQCO, with the following clarifications:

Dear Dr. Weingarten;

I am writing in regards to HEQCO’s recent publication, “Understanding the Sustainability of the Ontario Postsecondary System and its Institutions: A Framework.” The long-term sustainability of Ontario’s universities is a critically important issue, one that is foremost in the minds of professors and academic librarians across the province. In the interest of promoting a well-informed and productive discussion, I wanted to address several factual inadequacies in your report.

In your discussion of faculty salaries, you do not mention two important pieces of data. First, that the average across-the-board salary increases contained in faculty collective agreements has been between one and two per cent since 2012, at or below the rate of inflation. This translates into very low real increases in salary. Second, that the actual salary mass – the proportion of operating budgets taken up by faculty salaries at all ranks (including contract) – has been stable at approximately 30 per cent of operating expenditures since at least 2005.

The report focuses on average salary increases, which are often a function of staffing decisions, and tell us very little about the impact of the age, rank, and discipline composition of the faculty complement on average salaries at Ontario universities. Settlement pattern and salary mass data are therefore useful in contextualizing the change in faculty salaries over time, and prevent exaggeration of both the rate of salary increase and its impact on university budgets.

The report also notes that, “It seems timely to clarify the degree to which meeting ongoing pension obligations represents a serious sustainability problem and for which institutions.  It is also appropriate to develop and offer a set of options to these institutions to meet this challenge.” It is important to recognize that the sector has long been aware of the potential challenges posed by pension commitments, and has been working actively for the better part of a decade to address these concerns. I would draw your attention to the government-funded, joint OCUFA and COU project to explore the creation of a multi-employer university sector Jointly Sponsored Pension Plan (JSPP) for interested institutions as a particularly successful example of these activities.

Finally, as Ontario’s universities remain public institutions and receive significant public funding to support their activities, I was surprised to see so little attention paid to the level and adequacy of public funding provided to our institutions by the Government of Ontario, as this has serious implications for their long-term financial sustainability. While university budgets have increased in nominal terms over the past decade, this has been accompanied by a steady expansion in university enrolment. As a result, Ontario universities receive the lowest level of per-student public funding in Canada, and compare unfavourably to many peer jurisdictions in the United States. Ontario faculty are now teaching more students with less money than ever before. A boon, perhaps, to some definitions of productivity, but not a sustainable situation in the long term.

I hope you take these clarifications into account as you prepare your next publication on the sustainability issue. I welcome any opportunity to further discuss your work, and OCUFA would be equally happy to provide any data we have that would help build a more complete picture of university sustainability in Ontario.

Yours sincerely,

Judy Bates, President of OCUFA
Associate Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University

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