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Funding for universities must support high-quality, accessible public education and good jobs

Funding for universities must support high-quality, accessible public education and good jobs

We the North
We the North
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OUCC statement on the Ontario government’s upcoming review of the university funding formula

Funding for universities must support high-quality, accessible public education and good jobs: OUCC statement on the Ontario government’s upcoming review of the university funding formula

Ontario University and College Coalition (OUCC)

The Ontario University and College Coalition is made up of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O), Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario (CUPE Ontario), Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Unifor, and United Steelworkers (USW).

Adequate, reliable and predictable government funding is at the heart of a strong public postsecondary education sector. The structures and formulas that determine how university funding is provided and allocated must be designed to support accessible, high-quality public education.

The primary challenge facing Ontario universities when it comes to the current funding model is underfunding – inadequate government funding has forced universities to try to do more with less. In fact, Ontario’s per-student funding is the lowest in the country, 34 per cent behind the Canadian average. Ontario’s universities now receive 30 per cent less funding per student than they did in 1990. This means higher tuition fees, fewer professors, and larger class sizes.

University funding formula review

It is in this context that the provincial government has mandated the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) to review the funding formula for universities. As universities in Ontario are already dealing with years of accumulated underfunding, it is crucial that this exercise not be driven by a desire to constrain or otherwise reduce government spending on postsecondary education.

Instead, the funding formula review should strive to ensure that Ontario’s funding model for universities supports accessible, high-quality, and public postsecondary education.

Process

Making adjustments to the funding formula will affect the day-to-day lives of faculty, students and staff at Ontario’s universities. For this reason, consultation with these groups is essential to ensure any changes to the funding formula will have a positive impact on the quality and accessibility of postsecondary education in Ontario. It is also imperative that outcomes are not pre-determined and that the available options are not artificially constrained at the outset. Meaningful opportunities must be provided for groups in the sector to articulate their views and provide feedback on ideas raised throughout the consultation process.

Supports accessible public education

In the past nine years, tuition fees in Ontario have increased by up to 80 per cent. Students in this province pay the highest tuition fees, get the lowest per-student funding, and have the worst faculty to student ratio in the country. Ontario’s low per-student funding has been used by institutions as justification for raising tuition fees, burdening students with more than half of the cost of operating budgets at Ontario’s universities. These high tuition fees have made postsecondary education in Ontario inaccessible for students from low-income families.

The funding formula for Ontario universities must address chronic underfunding in order to support equitable access to public postsecondary education for all Ontarians.

Supports quality public education and good jobs

A funding formula that supports adequate, reliable and predictable investments in universities will help to ensure high-quality teaching and student learning, as well as safe and well-maintained campuses. Underfunding has led to institutional-level cuts to departments and programs, inadequate full-time faculty hiring, a growing reliance on contract faculty who face job insecurity and relatively low pay, and a decline in safe and well-maintained campus infrastructure. The result has been growing student-faculty ratios, larger class sizes, reduced course selection and program offerings, less student-faculty interaction, and fewer research opportunities for students. Quality learning is synonymous with quality teaching and safe learning environments, which can only be guaranteed when there are enough full-time faculty and support staff with adequate pay and job security.

The funding formula for Ontario universities must support good jobs and high-quality public education for all students across the province.

Keeps education public

Ontario’s postsecondary system has become markedly less public in recent decades. Government cuts have opened the door for a fundamental shift from public to private funding as the main source of revenue for Ontario’s universities and colleges. In fact, postsecondary institutions in Ontario are no longer referred to as publicly-funded but rather publicly-assisted. This year, tuition fee revenue has exceeded public operating grant revenue at Ontario’s universities for the first time ever, leaving students and their families paying for the majority of the cost of their education. Given the role postsecondary education plays in driving economic growth, spurring innovation and creating social and economic equality, it is a sensible and necessary public investment.

The funding formula for Ontario universities must support government investment at sufficient levels to keep postsecondary education in Ontario public.

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