The province claims to heavily invest in education in its 24 March budget with a 5 per cent increase in operational funds for universities and colleges. Tuition fees will be allowed to rise by an equal amount, while the budget adds $97.7 million towards financial support for students to soften the impact of the tuition hike.
The budget further provides $7.9 million for “medical education system enhancements,” including registered nurse and physician training seat expansion, as well as $1 million in new operating funding for the Canadian Light Source synchrotron based at the University of Saskatchewan.
By all indicators, Manitoba’s 2010–11 budget should have resulted in reasonable increases in funding to higher education. Provincial funding for post-secondary education lags behind most other provinces, Manitoba has enjoyed strong economic performance and concerns about cuts in federal transfers didn’t materialize.
But the March 23 budget instead announced only a 4.5 per cent increase in operating funds for post-secondary schools, down from 6 per cent the previous year.
Brad McKenzie, president of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association, said the situation is “much worse” for universities.
“The reality at the University of Manitoba is that the overall operating budget has been increased by only 2 per cent,” he said. “Another $848,000 has been targeted for expansion in the faculty of medicine and $208,000 is going to the international engineering program in the faculty of education.
“The total increase in funding coming to the University of Manitoba is approximately 2.5 per cent, or only about 55 per cent of what should have been its fair share of the announced increase.”
“The government has presented a misleading picture of the funding to universities,” Ian Clark, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, said of the budget announcement.
The budget also allows colleges to raise tuition fees by $150, and universities by 5 per cent, but excludes professional programs, such as dentistry and management, where tuition hikes of 40 to 55 per cent are being proposed.
McKenzie said the significant increases in tuition and other fees in some professional faculties will be a major barrier for many of the students these programs should be trying to recruit.
“Student accessibility is being eroded by underfunding and the imposition of major increases in tuition fees is not the answer,” he said.
The budget will now allow students to access part of the tuition fee income tax rebate while they are still in school.
As announced earlier in Ontario’s throne speech, the 25 March budget touts the $310 million investment to increase the number of spaces in colleges and universities by 20,000 this year.
The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations says while the budget announcement is a positive move, it leaves many larger issues unanswered.
“There is no mention of hiring additional professors required to teach these new students,” said Mark Langer, the association’s president. “University education depends on the connection between faculty and students. That connection simply does not exist in a lecture hall with more than 500 seats.”
OCUFA also raised concerns about the government’s lack of a commitment in allocating sufficient resources to support the proposed credit transfer system and its pledge to increase international enrolment by 50 per cent.
Student reaction to the 2010 budget measures on tuition fees and financial assistance was mixed. While some students applauded the new rules on employment earnings, new aid and loan breaks, others reacted with disappointment to the proposed tuition increases of between 4 and 8 per cent annually over the next two years.
The Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students contends the government is relying too heavily on a “high-fees, high debt model” to fund the system, and allowing the increase will push students further into debt and increase user fees by another 8 to 16 per cent over two years.
The tuition announcement means the average graduate will now carry $29,200 in debt, says CFS-Ontario chairperson Shelley Melanson.
“Ontario is already the most expensive province in which to earn a degree, and this announcement means that the gap between Ontario and the rest of Canada for the cost of education will continue to widen,” she said.
The March 30 budget speech was long on wording and short on details, but generally beat to the drum of austerity measures with tax increases, wage freezes and education spending capped at 2.2 per cent for the coming year.
Quebec’s federation of professors called the budget a “bitter disappointment,” saying post-secondary education has been particularly hard hit after the promised 3.5 per cent increase in the 2009 budget never materialized and funding was limited to 2.2 per cent.
The government has still to make up a 16.5 per cent or $33 million shortfall in research funding in last year’s budget, while the professors’ association warns the $75 million in targeted funding to the innovation and export program will only lead to the commercialization of research at the expense of academic freedom.
The budget also proposes to lift the university tuition freeze — a major pillar of Quebec post-secondary education — as of 2012. The government will call a meeting of “education partners” this fall in order to establish the terms of future tuition increases.
Student groups were quick to denounce the planned increases in tuition.
In a statement, the Quebec Federation of Students said it deplored the government’s stance on unfreezing tuition before consulting with stakeholders.
The Canadian Federation of Students said it was ill-conceived to sacrifice accessibility when 70 per cent of jobs created today require a post-secondary education, noting the success of the current policy as Quebec has the highest enrolment rates in the country.
“The government of Quebec has turned its back on students and their families,” said CFS national chairperson Katherine Giroux-Bougard. “Quebec’s low tuition fees have built the foundation for its future economic success, but that will be undone if the government moves ahead with increases.”
Newfoundland & Labrador
There’s a mixed reaction from the academic community to the Williams’ government March 29 budget.
Ross Klein, president of the Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association, says he’s pleased with the government’s support for student housing and its commitment to hold the line on tuition fee increases, but “our members continue to be concerned about the aging and crumbling infrastructure in which we work.”
Budget 2010 provides $17.3 million for a new building and upgrades at College of the North Atlantic and $41.7 million for a new academic building at Memorial’s Corner Brook campus, two new student residences in St. John’s and Corner Brook, and deferred maintenance and upgrades at existing facilities.
Klein said space for labs and research equipment in some departments is addressed in the mix, but not adequately addressed for many others. He says infrastructure needs are growing with the influx of new aculty. “In some departments people are being forced to double-up in offices designed for one person.”
The budget also pledges a $2 million increase for graduate student fellowships, which Klein said was “sorely needed.”
Daniel Smith, Newfoundland’s chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, was upbeat about the additional funding.
“To see that money put in place was very welcomed,” said Smith.
He said students also applauded another budget with a tuition freeze, although “as the province’s economy recovers, students will look to the government for lowered tuition.”