A CAUT report released last month shines new light on the financial woes facing universities and colleges and calls on the provinces and Ottawa to negotiate a new funding arrangement for post-secondary education.
"Financing Canada’s universities and colleges: How Ottawa and the provinces can fix the funding gap," shows that provincial grants to universities and colleges, adjusted for inflation and measured on a per capita basis, were nearly 9 per cent — or $1.2 billion — lower in 2004–2005 than in 1992–1993.
Provincial spending patterns, however, varied widely. In Ontario, real per capita funding fell by 30 per cent, while spending rose by more than 27 per cent in Saskatchewan.
"These variations reflect the fact that different provinces made different policy choices under very similar fiscal circumstances," CAUT president Loretta Czernis said.
Czernis said federal spending on research has risen substantially in the past decade, but the real problem has been declining support for operating grants. When adjusted for inflation and population growth, the federal cash contribution available for post-secondary education in fiscal 2004 is estimated to be 40 per cent lower than in 1992–1993. As a share of the economy, this is its lowest level in 25 years.
The report recommends the creation of a new education transfer that provides stable and predictable federal cash funding in exchange for a provincial commitment to boost grants to universities and colleges.
"One of the principal problems with the current transfer for post-secondary education is that any increase is solely at the discretion of the federal government," Czernis said. "This means the provinces must regularly make demands on Ottawa for more money, and this invariably leads to the all too familiar and politicized debates between the two levels of government. If Ottawa and the provinces really do believe that post-secondary education is a priority, then now is time they back up their words with a new partnership and a renewed financial commitment."
The report was released just prior to the annual meeting of provincial premiers where concern about post-secondary education dominated discussions. The premiers concluded their meeting by calling on the federal government to restore transfer payments for post-secondary education to 1994–1995 levels.
The premiers also invited Prime Minister Paul Martin to meet with them in November to discuss a Canada-wide education and training strategy.
CAUT’s report is available online.