With a federal election set for later this month it is critical that Canada's academic electorate gets involved. It is up to us, as academics, to ensure post-secondary education issues are a key focus in the campaign.
This will be a pivotal election for Canada's universities and colleges. Over the past decade we have seen serious cuts to post-secondary education financing. In fact, to bring funding levels back to where they were in real terms in 1993 would require an immediate funding boost of more than $1.6 billion.
It is not difficult to see the fallout of continued public underfunding. Tuition fees and student debt levels have risen dramatically, putting the promise of a university and college education beyond the reach of more and more qualified Canadians. An undergraduate arts student is paying an average of 155 per cent more in tuition today, than in 1990. The increases are even higher for students enrolled in professional programs.
The number of university and college professors has decreased by 9 per cent in the past 10 years, leading to larger class sizes and fewer course offerings.
The infrastructure of universities and colleges has also suffered. Library collections have been drastically cut. Many research facilities are inadequate and many campus buildings are unhealthy and unsafe.
In short, the current situation is simply not sustainable. Politicians of every political stripe generally agree post-secondary education is the key to promoting social development and economic growth. But very few back that up with the financial commitment needed to make our higher education system a national priority.
The next federal government must play a lead role in rebuilding Canada's universities and colleges and in ensuring they are accessible, affordable and of the highest quality. CAUT has put forward some concrete ways Ottawa can do this by enacting a Canada Post-Secondary Education Act. Modelled on the Canada Health Act, this new legislation would commit the federal government to providing increased, stable and long-term funding to the provinces for post-secondary education in exchange for greater accountability over how those funds are spent. The money is there to achieve this. What is needed is the political will.
That is why your involvement in this election is so important. There are many ways to get involved, including raising concerns directly with local candidates or, more ambitiously, organizing events and activities to highlight the continued underfunding of post-secondary education.
CAUT has prepared an "election kit" and "fact sheets" for use in forums, debates and other venues. Key elements of these initiatives are available at www.caut.ca.
The site explains how you can write messages to your colleagues, letters to the editor, or use the information in the kit as a starting point for an article in your association's newsletter. The detailed kit also includes an "ask the candidates" guide and fact sheets that can help you raise the level of awareness of political candidates and members of your local community about post-secondary education issues. The education statistics for numerous areas, including university and college revenues, provincial funding, operating grants, tuition fees, libraries, tuition related to income levels, research funding and faculty renewal, can also be used to voice a concern to a local candidate's election office or prepare a press release for local media outlets.
This election provides us with an ideal opportunity to focus public attention on the challenges facing universities and colleges and to present our solutions to these challenges. Please join me and your academic colleagues across the country in ensuring the crisis in post-secondary education is too conspicuous and too important for any political party to ignore.