Spending on students makes sense
A guest post from PEF Steering Committee member, Nick Falvo, initially published in The Charlatan:
Students from across Ontario took to the streets Nov. 5 to fight for a fairer deal for post-secondary education. This is a struggle that students must fight to win, as decreasing government funding, rising tuition fees and a slumping economy continue to place university education out of reach for a growing number of Canadians.
Last weekâ€™s Charlatan opinion piece raised questions about how the Canadian Federation of Studentsâ€™ (CFS) proposal for increased government funding could ever be sustained. While it is sensible to raise such concerns, rest assured that the CFS proposal is sustainable.
Government can and should be pushed to commit more funding to both increase access to post-secondary education and reduce student poverty.
Over the past several decades, senior levels of government in Canada have decreased funding for post-secondary education. Indeed, government grants as a share of university operating revenue in Canada decreased from 80 per cent to less than 57 per cent between 1986 and 2006.
As a result, the share of university operating budgets funded by tuition fees has more than doubled during the same period (increasing from 14 to 29 per cent). To be sure, tuition has been rising at the same time that the economy has nosedived.
This year, roughly 80 per cent of post-secondary students in Canada said they plan to work while in school. And 70 per cent of high school graduates who do not pursue post-secondary education cite financial reasons as the main factor.
As of this year, Canadaâ€™s largest province has the distinction of having the highest tuition fees of any Canadian province at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Some Ontario-based student activists, tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, have since taken up the motto: â€œWeâ€™re Number One!â€
A Harris/Decima opinion poll commissioned by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and the CFS reveals that Canadians believe that tuition fee reductions should be the top priority for government investment in education.
The same poll indicates that 69 per cent of Canadians want the federal government to take more control over transfers to the provinces for post-secondary education.Â Finally, it finds that 70 per cent of Canadians believe that university tuition fees should be either frozen or reduced.
The CFS and CAUT have recently recommended that the federal government establish, in consultation with the provinces, conditions for federal post-secondary education transfers. The conditions would commit the provinces to uphold principles around public administration, affordability, comprehensiveness, democratic governance and academic freedom.
In return for upholding these principles, provincial governments would receive increased and predictable funding from the federal government.
As the authors of last weekâ€™s opinion piece pointed out, any responsible proposal to lower tuition fees should state where the money would come from.
Each year, the CFS participates in the development of both the Ontario Alternative Budget and the Alternative Federal Budget (AFB).
This yearâ€™s AFB presents a two-year fiscal stimulus package that calls on increased federal spending.Â It works from the premise that increased funding is sustainable, provided that the size of Canadaâ€™s economy grows faster than the size of its public debt over the long term.
Details of this macroeconomic and fiscal framework can be found at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternativesâ€™ website: www.policyalternatives.ca.
Of course, as good as the CFS proposal looks on paper, students, faculty, as well as university administrators and governors, must mobilize to make it a reality.
Ontario students have taken to the streets to demand more accessible post-secondary education.
This yearâ€™s campaign has an expanded scope, calling for a poverty-free Ontario. We have joined with labour and health-care workers, and community organizations.
Members of the above constituencies understand that governments need to commit more funding to post-secondary education, even if it means taking on a sizeable â€• though perfectly manageable â€• amount of debt. We owe this to our youth.
Because we should indeed strive to be Number One.