Want financially stable universities? Provide the investment students and faculty deserve

Posted on November 14, 2023 in Education Debates

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TheSPec.com – Opinion/Contributors
November 10, 2023.   By Nigmendra Narain

Research shows that higher spending on universities yields an equally higher positive economic impact, Nigmendra Narain writes.

Like the Ontario government, university professors and students want our schools to be financially stable and a great environment for learning. And clearly the rest of the province agrees, with the majority of Ontarians saying prior to the 2022 election that the next provincial government should provide more funding to universities. Yet, with another school year well underway, faculty continue to do much more with much less. Unfortunately, the financial stability of post-secondary education is in crisis without an increased investment in post-secondary education from the province.

Earlier this year, the Ontario government announced the creation of a new blue-ribbon panel responsible for researching the province’s post-secondary system. Ultimately, they will make recommendations on how to make the university and college system financially sustainable and create the “best student experience possible.”

We as university faculty and academic librarians play a huge role in providing that student experience, so the province can — and should — tap us to offer solutions. Namely, these concerns can be addressed through increases in post-secondary operations funding. Instead, as we await the panel’s findings, questions remain around what a “successful” post-secondary system looks like to the provincial government.

The panel’s work comes at an unprecedented time for Ontario students and universities, with both economic and social pressures at the forefront. International students — who have a tremendous positive impact on the culture and diversity of our campuses — are struggling to find adequate places to live as we navigate through the housing crisis. What’s more, Ontario’s reliance on international student enrolment is not a sustainable funding model to make up for years of chronic underfunding by the government.

Expanding international enrolment would not be as much of a concern if domestic student enrolment remained in decline, but we know the population of 18-year-olds in Ontario is set to increase between 18 and 20 per cent by 2030. According to the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations’ (OCUFA) research, if the provincial government does not increase post-secondary funding to combat this shift, the average funding Ontario offers will drop by nearly $2,000 per student. This will have a direct effect on the quality of education and services our world-class universities are known for.

If you look at the list of blue-ribbon panel members, you will not find any current faculty or students. But who is better equipped to offer insights about post-secondary education than the people who learn and work at universities every day? This marks a pattern of oversight with respect to Ontario’s approach to post-secondary priorities, with our province already having the lowest investment per student across all of Canada. In turn, this adds pressure on faculty to serve students using limited resources. We implore the province to use our expertise before moving forward with any recommendations from the panel.

Universities require more investment because they are major economic drivers for the communities in which they operate. In fact, OCUFA research shows higher spending on universities yields an equally higher positive economic impact. The Council of Ontario Universities (COU) estimates university spending, combined with improved alumni earnings, capital spending as well as student and visitor spending produced an estimated $42.4 billion contribution to Ontario’s GDP in 2015 alone. The Conference Board of Canada now estimates public investment in university education boosts Ontario’s GDP by approximately $96 billion per year.

What cannot be forgotten is the positive impact our students make on our province. Historically, Ontario’s students graduate to earn more and even have better health outcomes — a win-win for our alumni and the province overall. But without proper resources, professors cannot provide the adequate services students require in today’s post-secondary settings. Without the funding of essential on-campus services, faculty are doing more support work for students dealing with their courseloads, issues with housing, food insecurity and more.

We as faculty want to do so much more for our students to achieve the positive outcomes we know are possible, but this will become more of a challenge if the current level of provincial funding remains unchanged. More investment from the government is critical to ensuring success for our students, faculty and universities.

Nigmendra Narain is president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.


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