What might the 2018 Ontario Budget mean for university faculty?

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On March 28, the 2018 Ontario Budget was tabled. Given the upcoming election, it is widely understood that this is as much a campaign platform document as a budget. While the continued implementation of reforms to student assistance in this year’s budget are expected to further improve access for students, faculty are concerned that operating funding for universities remains stagnant, threatening the high-quality education students expect and deserve.

The lack of increased funding to support the government’s stated goals of providing fairness for contract faculty and encouraging faculty renewal is disappointing. Operating funding over the next three years is now on track to decline slightly (by 0.1%), which, when adjusted for inflation and enrolment, amounts to an even larger reduction in funding. Ontario’s universities already receive the lowest per-student funding in Canada and this budget will leave our province further behind.

The changes to student assistance announced in 2016 continue to be implemented, with parental and spousal contributions reduced as expected in the 2018 budget. This will result in more students qualifying for the grants and loans they need to afford the cost of tuition fees, which continue to increase. Investments in access are welcome, but they must be matched with operating investments in quality that support improved student-faculty ratios, smaller class sizes, full-time faculty hiring, and fairness for contract faulty. Investments in quality were missing from this year’s budget.

Postsecondary-related budget announcements that will be of interest to faculty include:

  • Funding new labour laws: A one-time “support quality programs and student outcomes” fund is allocated in 2018-19, including $32 million for universities and $125 million for colleges. While not specified in the budget, it is our understanding that these funds are intended to fund implementation of new labour laws passed in Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. In the university sector, we understand that it is expected to fund a portion of the cost of new minimum wage, vacation pay, and leave provisions, but no funding has yet to be allocated to support the implementation of new equal pay provisions. It is also concerning that this funding has only been allocated for a single year, since supporting fair working conditions will require ongoing investment in Ontario’s universities.
  • Experiential learning and labour market focused programming: A new Talent Advantage Fund will provide $132 million over three years to support programming that is responsive to the needs of students and the labour market, including partnerships with employers to provide more experiential learning opportunities, dual curriculum programs that partner with employers, and increasing STEM grads by 25 per cent. An additional $12 million has been allocated to support the Career Ready Fund, which was established in 2017 to support experiential learning.
  • Capital funding: A new investment of $500 million over ten years starting in 2020–21 is targeted at helping to renew and modernize Ontario’s university and college campuses. Two-thirds of this funding is expected to be allocated to universities. This is part of a $3 billion commitment over ten years to capital funding for postsecondary education, which includes facilities renewal and major capacity expansion funding, announced in previous budgets.
  • Mental health: A portion of the $2.1 billion investment in mental health services over four years will be dedicated to postsecondary education. The annual $6 million investments in on-campus student mental health services announced in the 2017 Ontario Budget will continue.
  • International strategy: An Internationalization Fund has been announced, but no money has been allocated in this budget to support it. Once funded, the strategy will aim to support programming to enhance students’ international competencies and knowledge, study‐abroad scholarships for domestic students, bolster support services for international students, expand support for students with social service and settlements needs, and promote French‐language institutions in Ontario as study destinations.

Other ongoing initiatives were also noted in the budget, including continued support for eCampusOntario’s Open Textbooks Library and continued progress towards the proclamation of a French-language university.

This budget also included the expansion of OHIP+ prescription drug coverage to seniors, which will result in cost savings for benefit plans that provide drug coverage for employees over 65 or retirees. Through negotiations, this could lead to benefit improvements or premium reductions for faculty associations.

Overall, this budget leaves important faculty concerns unaddressed. Following the June 7 election, OCUFA will continue working with the new government to advocate for re-investments in universities to support improvements in per-student funding levels; establish a more robust consultative process for Strategic Mandate Agreements; ensure core operating grants are not linked to performance metrics; establish funding to support fairness for contract faculty, including equal pay; and develop a faculty renewal strategy that supports full-time faculty hiring.

Once the full platforms of all three parties are released, OCUFA will provide a more detailed analysis of those documents to you.

If you have any questions about the 2018 Ontario Budget, please contact Brynne at bsinclair-waters@ocufa.on.ca.

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