More than 60 university professors and academic staff from across Canada called on Ottawa to boost funding for post-secondary education as part of a one-day national lobby day organized by CAUT and the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d'université last month.
"We're here today to tell federal politicians that our universities and colleges are at the breaking point," CAUT president Tom Booth stated during a news conference on Parliament Hill April 26.
"If this government really believes that access to a high quality post-secondary education system is critical to our social and economic future, then it's time it backs that up with proper funding."
Booth noted that since 1992, real per capita spending on post-secondary education has decreased by more than 14 per cent and that operating grants to universities are down by more than 25 per cent.
"The most positive action the federal government could take is to ensure on a regular and equitable basis the transfer of the necessary funds to the provinces to pay for post-secondary education," added FQPPU president Arpi Hamalian. "Only this will enable the provinces to meet their own responsibilities towards university teaching and research."
Booth and Hamalian began their day long lobbying blitz with Peter Adams, chair of the Liberal government's post-secondary education caucus. This was followed by a one-hour meeting with Finance Minister Paul Martin.
Booth said he pressed CAUT's proposed post-secondary education act with Martin, who admitted the current way Ottawa helps fund education is flawed. The act would reform the way Ottawa transfers money to the provinces to pay for higher education at the same time as requiring the provinces to meet certain national standards, such as accessibility and a not-for-profit provision.
"I think Martin was surprised and impressed that we had the support of the Quebec professors on the proposed act," Booth said. "That really made him sit up and take notice."
"When Martin asked whether professors in Quebec support the act, I told him quite clearly that we are speaking with one voice on this," Hamalian said.
Booth said that Martin urged both CAUT and FQPPU to "sell the act" with the provincial premiers and with the public.
Representatives of CAUT also met with Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, Bloc Québecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, and Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark. A meeting scheduled with Stockwell Day was cancelled at the last minute amidst growing speculation over the Alliance leader's political future.
Earlier in the day, more than 10,000 signed postcards collected by CAUT calling on the government to increase university and college funding were delivered to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's office.
Booth and Hamalian are scheduled to meet over the next few weeks with Human Resources Development Minister Jane Stewart and Industry Minister Brian Tobin, both of whom were unavailable during lobby day.