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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 1998

Justifying a New Federal Post-Secondary Education Fund

"Without the federal government resuming its responsibilities, Canada's universities are in serious jeopardy," CAUT told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in a pre-budget submission on Oct. 26.

CAUT pointed out the dramatic cut in federal government support for post-secondary education over the past five years. This funding cut has reduced accessibility and threatened quality, according to CAUT.

CAUT called on the federal government to restore funding to the 1993-94 level of $2.5-billion through a new post-secondary education fund and accompanying postsecondary act that sets national standards to assure public administration, accessibility, academic freedom, mobility and research support.

Acknowledging that this proposal runs counter to the notion of social union being proposed by most of the provinces and tacitly accepted by the federal government, CAUT said that the federal role in setting social policy and national standards cannot be abandoned. It noted that this will require recognition of the special status of Quebec as a condition of restoring federal initiatives that are essential to prevent the irreparable damage to Canada's system of post-secondary education and social programs.

Focusing on decreasing accessibility, CAUT noted that tuition fees have increased by over 90 per cent since 1990, while the Consumer Price Index has risen only 16.7 per cent. This has helped push average student debt load to $25,000, almost triple what it was nine years earlier.

Part-time student enrolment has dropped 21 per cent since 1991-92, as universities consolidate their declining resources to meet the needs of full-time students.

Funding cuts have worsened faculty-student ratios and have had a devastating effect on university libraries. In the Association for Research Libraries index, Canadian university libraries have fallen significantly in rankings relative to libraries at American universities.

Faculty salaries at Canada's largest universities have fallen in real dollar terms over the past seven years, and the number of faculty have declined significantly. Salaries for full professors at Canada's largest universities trail their American counterparts by 25 per cent. For associate professors, the difference is 14 per cent, and for assistant professors the difference is 22 per cent.

With a significant percentage of Canadian faculty reaching re-tirement age in the next ten years, and with a 23 per cent projected growth of the student-age population during the same period, the need for new faculty will rival that of the late 1960's and early 1970's. But Canadian universities will have a difficult time competing with American universities because salaries and research funding are so much lower here.

In addition to raising tuition fees, universities and governments have promoted stronger links with the private sector as an antidote to reduced public funding. CAUT warned that this posed a threat to universities. It noted the possibility of conflicts between corporate interests and research ethics -- as dramatically demonstrated in the Dr. Nancy Olivieri case where the corporate sponsor of her research threatened legal action if she published her findings.

Equally troubling is the corporate focus on a narrow range of commercially viable applied research. As Dr. Stefan Dupré, President of the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research, noted in a recent speech to the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering, "Truly fundamental research, especially in the physical sciences, is currently a very hard sell in the executive suites of Canadian corporations."

CAUT argued that growing reliance of private funding poses difficulties for the general operation of universities. Focus is increasingly narrowed to fields that have "market value." Less support is available for academic work whose goal is promotion of values such as democracy, social justice, cultural diversity, academic freedom and critical inquiry.

Universities are shifting their attention to programs for which they can introduce very high fees and attract corporate-sponsored students. Research talents of university faculty are being "rented" to corporations for a fee -- without considering the implications of turning faculty energy and students' learning to solving corporate problems.

The CAUT brief argued that reliance on private funding to replace diminishing public support will propel Canada toward a two-tiered university sector. The privileged tier will be a small number of large universities with wealthy alumni and strong corporate links. Most universities will be relegated to an increasing impoverished second tier.

Copies of the CAUT brief are available on the CAUT web site or by writing CAUT at 2675 Queensview Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K2B 8K2.