Ontario faculty make key recommendations on Ontario’s university funding formula

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Ontario’s professors and academic librarians are calling for a funding formula that builds on existing strengths, complemented by a new higher education data system for the province. The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) is also cautioning against adopting a performance funding regime that punishes students and makes continuous educational improvement impossible.

The recommendations are part of OCUFA’s official response to the Government of Ontario’s review of the province’s university funding formula, officially submitted to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) on September 1, 2015. Today, OCUFA is pleased to make these ideas public.

“The funding formula is foundational to the relationship between our universities and the Government of Ontario,” said Judy Bates, President of OCUFA. “It is therefore essential that it continue to support high quality higher education in the province by facilitating secure and adequate public investment in our institutions.”

OCUFA’s submission makes three key recommendations:

  1. The funding formula should continue to be responsive to the number of students in the system and the learning choices made by those students.
  2. Performance funding – where students are punished if their universities fail to meet largely arbitrary targets – is not the right choice for Ontario. There is no evidence that performance funding regimes do anything to improve student outcomes. They do, however, undermine the stability of university funding while making continuous and collaborative improvement impossible. When funding for a university is cut by government – for any reason – it is always the students who suffer. Measurement is useful in building accountability; punishment is counterproductive.
  3. Ontario needs a new higher education data system to promote accountability and collaboration in our universities. This new system would make more and better data available for students, faculty, policymakers, and members of the public. It would also create a stakeholder-led process for continuously evaluating Ontario’s higher education data needs, and refining the types of data collected to meet these dynamic requirements.

Unfortunately, the level of public investment in higher education was explicitly excluded from the mandate of the funding formula review. Ontario currently provides the lowest level of per-student universities funding of any province in Canada. This underfunding has a variety of negative effects. Class sizes get larger as universities cannot hire the professors they need to keep up with enrolment. Labs and classrooms fall into disrepair. Tuition fees go up. This year, for the first time since the public university system was created, tuition fees paid by students has surpassed public funding as the primary source of university revenue.

“Forward-looking public investment is the only way to ensure high quality and affordable universities in Ontario,” said Bates. “You can have the best funding formula in the world, but if the actual amount of funding is inadequate, then the quality of education will still suffer.”

The full OCUFA submission is available here. You can also read more about the University Funding Formula Review.

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