Ontario public post-secondary education institutions get their funding from the government, from individual students who pay tuition fees and sometimes from private donors (either individuals or corporations). Since the early 1980s institutions greatly relied on government funding, in the recent past government funding has significantly decreased and has forced institutions to look elsewhere for more funding.
For Ontario’s colleges and universities to meet the increased demands of a changing population while at the same time delivering quality teaching and research, they need to be able to budget based on stable, predictable and adequate funding.
Ontario has the lowest per-student funding for colleges and universities in all of Canada, and this gap has only widened in recent years. In real dollars, Ontario spends less on post-secondary education per student than it did two decades ago and the average per-student funding from the provincial government is only 78 percent of the Canadian average.
The effects of such underfunding have had significant impacts across the province on the quality of education. Further cut-backs at the institutional level have been a chronic symptom of underfunding, and various schools have instituted hiring freezes and relied heavily on cheaper labour through part-time and sessional faculty. As a result, Ontario has the worst student-faculty ratio in Canada-15 percent higher than anywhere else in the country and well behind institutions in the United States. The ratio of students to faculty affects students’ class sizes, course selection and program offerings, student-teacher interaction and research opportunities for students.
Underfunding for colleges and universities has meant that institutions are increasingly relying on private sector funding. As a result, students and faculty are often faced with the challenge of framing their research within the boundaries of private interests. This limits innovation and creativity and can also undermine academic freedom and integrity.
During the most recent financial crisis, universities across Ontario witnessed massive losses on their investments. Some institutions lost up to 30 percent of their pension and endowment funds-which have been relied upon as a source of funds for operating expenses, salaries, financial aid, due to systemic underfunding. This loss of funds has resulted in cuts to institutional operating budgets, while students have been forced to pay more for their education.
Post-secondary education must move away from a reliance on private sector funding and commercialization. The quality of programs and the independence of research can only be maintained through adequate, stable public funding.