A recent report commissioned by Premier Doug Ford’s government has revealed a significant financial crisis looming over Ontario’s universities, with the province’s post-secondary sector at “serious risk” due to ongoing funding challenges. According to CBC News, the expert panel appointed by the government has highlighted the impact of the province’s prolonged freeze on per-student funding, the 2019 elimination of a free tuition program, and rising inflation rates.
Government’s Role in the Crisis
The panel’s findings underscore the provincial government’s substantial role in the financial strain experienced by the universities. This includes the Ford government’s decision to scrap the subsidy for low- and middle-income students’ free tuition while labeling it as a tuition cut. “As time goes on, this situation is ever more likely to pose a significant threat to the financial sustainability of a major part of the province’s post-secondary sector,” the panel warned.
Recommendations and Government Response
In response to these challenges, the panel recommended a five per cent tuition hike and a 10 per cent increase in government funding. However, the Ford government, as noted by Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop, insists on increased efficiencies in universities and colleges before considering any funding hike. “Before agreeing to any tuition increases, we need to ensure that colleges and universities are operating as efficiently as possible,” Dunlop stated.
Funding Discrepancies and Efficiency Debate
Ontario currently provides significantly less funding per student compared to other provinces, amounting to only 57% of the national average. Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates noted, “Ontario is a long, long way below what’s being spent in the rest of the provinces.”
University officials, including University of Toronto president Meric Gertler and University of Waterloo vice-president James Rush, echoed the sentiment that efficiencies could only contribute to a small part of the solution. “We have been in pursuit of efficiencies for many years in a number of ways,” Gertler commented on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. “I think we can find more, but it would only be a small part of the solution.”
The Impact on Universities
The combined effect of the funding freeze and tuition cuts has been profound. Universities like the University of Waterloo now face significant deficits, and others, like Nipissing University, have had to make substantial staff reductions. The financial strain is also causing Ontario’s universities to increasingly rely on international student tuition, which is significantly higher than domestic rates.
Silence from Other Universities
Many universities, including Queen’s, McMaster, Toronto Metropolitan, and York, have been reluctant or unable to comment on the funding crisis, further highlighting the issue’s sensitivity and complexity.