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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2004

CAUT Should Accept Political Reality

Victor Catano (Bulletin, Jan. 2004) reports the opinion of Ivor Crewe that public funding of universities was more acceptable 40 years ago when student numbers were so much lower than they are now. Professor Catano then offers his own perspective on this statement: "In other words, publicly-funded, accessible universities are fine as long as not more than a handful of students, mostly from upper-income families, take advantage."

This is a remarkably perverse reading of a fairly factual statement. When university enrolments were small, it wasn't so hard to find tax-revenue to pay for most students' higher education. Now that numbers are very large (and this growth is, in most respects, a good thing), it's a lot harder to come up with this revenue. Tax increases have not won much electoral favour, and even if they were to, these taxpayers have routinely asserted that health care is a higher priority than higher education. The demands upon the welfare state have grown dramatically and are now well in excess of the state's capacity to satisfy many of them - and will continue to be even if taxes are raised. The insistence that post-secondary funding be restored to pre-1990 levels is surely pie-in-the-sky.

All of the proposed "solutions" to universities' current problems are, in some way or other, unpalatable. But at least we can try to deal with political reality rather than fanciful visions.

Robert Malcolmson
History, Queen's University