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GUELPH, Ont. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario will launch a major campaign at Guelph University today to fight Ontario’s chronic underfunding of universities. Ontario ranks last among Canadian provinces in funding post-secondary education. The failure to adequately fund universities is making a university education unattainable for many Ontario students. Billions of dollars are needed just to repair crumbling buildings on campuses province-wide.
Of all ten provinces, Ontario comes last when it comes to per-student funding, said Janice Folk-Dawson, chair of CUPE’s Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC). So it’s no surprise for university students, their families and public sector workers that Ontario’s post-secondary education system is underfunded.
The underfunding of universities has been a problem since the early 1990s. Increasing student enrolment, flat-lined provincial funding transfers and the economic downturn, have exacerbated the operating shortfalls for Ontario universities. Resulting budget cuts have ranged between 3 per cent and 5 per cent. There have been reports that the market meltdown has created solvency problems for university pension funds. In reality, it was the universities themselves that chose to take pension funding holidays and use the saved contributions as operating revenues. Guelph University’s annual pension funding requirement may rise from $20 million to between $70 and $100 million and there is currently a $260 million dollar funding deficit in the pension plan. The university has announced that it may postpone or suspend major building projects. Some university employee groups, including those at Guelph, have been approached with requests to re-open collective agreements and accept concessions in the areas of wages, pension and benefits.
The Province of Ontario has refused to recognize the magnitude of the problem in its budget. Research shows that investing in education is an effective way to provide economic stimulus. For every dollar put into the system, $1.90 is put back into the economy. For every billion dollars spent, 12,000 good jobs are created. But universities across the province have announced cuts to staff, services and courses. They are also increasingly relying on private sector funding and privatization of services. This inevitably leads to higher tuition fees and extra costs for students.
In order to move Ontario from a manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy, serious reinvestment in universities is priority one, states Folk-Dawson. To build our province’s future, create decent jobs, and provide a place for students to develop the requisite knowledge and skills, we need strong universities accessible to all. The current economic downturn means more unemployed workers will return to school, and more young people will stay in school longer. This is an opportunity to prepare for a future of green and high-tech jobs. But before that can happen, the government of Ontario needs to take post-secondary education seriously in its economic renewal plan.
For further information, contact:
Wendy Forbes CUPE Communications 416 292-3999
Humberto daSilva CUPE Ontario Communications 416 839-9550