The Double Whammy of Defunding Universities
As I’ve blogged about here, federal funding forÂ post-secondary education (PSE) in CanadaÂ is decreasing.Â Between 1985-1986 and 2007-2008, annual federal cash transfers to Ontario for PSE (in constant 2007 dollars) decreased from roughly $1.4 billion toÂ just under $1 billion.Â (Yet,Â during that same period, PSE enrolment in Ontario increased by more than 60 percent).
And as I’veÂ written about here,Â during Dalton McGuinty’s time as Premier of Ontario, Ontario PSE enrolmentÂ has increased at a greater rate than provincial funding increases for PSE.
In addition to the obvious impact that this defundingÂ can haveÂ on quality (i.e. larger class sizes, which I’ve blogged about here), I believe that such defunding can alsoÂ exacerbate at least two types of inequities.Â
First, it can exacerbate inequities between students, based onÂ both class and race. I blogged about the latter yesterday; someÂ students have more money than others, and therefore have an easier time coping with the higher tuition that has accompanied this defunding.Â
Second, it can exarcebate inequities between institutions, as some post-secondary institutions have an easier time making up the funding shortfall than others.Â Sometimes, these differences stem from how old the institution is (which impacts the pool of wealthy alumni). It can also stem from how much emphasis the university places on recruiting a President who’s believed to be a skilled fundraiser, rather than a President deemed to be aÂ good, all-round leader, able to work effectively with many campus stakeholders, including faculty associations, staff associations, unions and student groups.
(Needless to say, intense competition for more funding isn’t always a good thing. As a recent legal case illustrates, intense pressure to raise more funds for a university can lead to charges of corruption.)
EvidenceÂ from the United States suggests that the potential for increased inequity between institutions is no small matter. Jeffrey Selingo is the editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education.Â In a recent piece looking at universities in the United States, he argues the following:
“Among the wealthiest private four-year institutions (in the top quartile of endowments), the median increase in instructional spending per full-time equivalent student from 2003-4 to 2008-9 was 10 percent. The growth in the bottom quartile (colleges with the smallest endowments) was only 3 percent.
Among colleges with the largest endowments in 2008-9, the median instructional spending per student was $17,934. Thatâ€™s about $10,000 more than at institutions in the bottom quartile. In sum, this means that the top quartile is continuing to pull away from the bottom quartile in this measure of spending.”
While I suspect that the gulf between the wealthiest and poorest universities in the United States is larger than in Canada, I worry that this same trend is indeed presentÂ in Canada.
In terms of a policy response, I think elected officials should pay attention to the concept of a federal Post-Secondary Education Act, as proposed by both the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Association of University Teachers. In effect, both groups advocate in favour of:
Nick Falvo is a Calgary-based research consultant. He has a PhD in public policy.