While many political leaders have declared the importance of higher education in recent months, this stated public support is not always reflected in their policy decisions. Although higher education is deemed to be one of the most critical investments to ensure long-term economic and social prosperity for our communities, there is a growing tendency for provinces to reduce public support for that same strategic investment.
It is interesting to look at what is actually happening in Canada with respect to financing public higher education. What I see is a growing trend towards the privatization of what was public higher education. We have moved from publicly funded systems to one that the Ontario government recently admitted has become a publicly assisted system.
Privatizing Canada’s Public Colleges and Universities
In British Columbia, the Christy Clark Liberal government has announced $46 million in cuts to post secondary education over the next three years. These cuts are partially offset by asking students to absorb an additional 2% increase in their tuition.
In Quebec, Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois government appeared committed to disrupting the province’s higher education system when she announced cuts of $124-million. Incredibly, Mdm. Marois demanded these reductions 2/3 of the way through the budget year. Marois does not appear satisfied with these cuts as she has declared further reductions will be forthcoming in the next budget year. In response, the Provost of Quebec’s iconic McGill University (likely Canada’s most internationally recognizable university) did not mix words with respect to the Premier’s direction.
In Nova Scotia, Darrell Dexter’s NDP government leads the way in cutting funds for higher education. His government has slashed funding by 4% and 3.1% over each of the past two years. These reductions in public education are downloaded onto students who are now paying some of the highest tuition rates in the Country. In doing so, the Dexter government is leading the way in the move towards privatizing public higher education.
However, all these cuts are relative as it is in Ontario where higher education continues to be the least publically supported system in the Country. Premier Kathleen Wynne now leads the province holding this dubious position. Per student funding in Canada’s most populous province continues to win the race to the bottom. This reality has not gone unnoticed. David Naylor, President of the University of Toronto, recently stated “Ontario’s per student funding is low compared to other provinces – and our relatively higher tuitions reflect those missing dollars”. Additional thoughts can be viewed here.
Follow the Money
In determining what priorities are important to a governments, it is wise to follow the money. In working with Algonquin leaders, I have often stated, “Do not tell me what is important, show me where you spend your money and that will tell me what is important”. I apply this notion to where governments are allocating their scarce resources today. In Ontario, this question of where money is being spent is especially poignant.
There was a time when Ontario was Canada’s economic engine. Today sadly, its the caboose. When former Premier McGuinty took office in 2003 he inherited a deficit of approximately $5 billion. Upon his departure, that deficit had almost tripled. The current situation must be addressed yet it took years to create and will take years for the Ontario government to eliminate. The Premier’s recent Speech from the Throne leads me to believe that her government will rightly take the deficit seriously.
The choice before Premier Wynne and all political leaders is whether they will they cut consumption services; those that will not position the province for the future? Or will they cut investment services; those that will position provinces for prosperity in the future. Investment services like higher education must be protected, particularly in a province like Ontario that when you follow the money – already prioritizes higher education less than any province in Canada.