A strong post-secondary education sector is an essential foundation for social cohesion, innovation, science, and economic success. It creates the knowledge needed to meet national and international challenges, trains the talent necessary to promote economic security, and contributes to social mobility, decent work, reduced inequality, and a robust culture and democracy. Canada’s post-secondary education system underpins our democracy and provides solutions to existing and future challenges. Locally, universities and colleges are job-creating institutions, cultural centres, and regional economic drivers.
Canada has an excellent system, respected internationally for producing world-class research and graduates. But the sector is under considerable strain across the country. Over the past several decades, government spending has not kept pace with enrolment and now represents less than half of total university and college revenue. The impact of the pandemic has amplified pre-existing problems and put in stark relief the broken funding model, including its over-reliance on student fees and dependence on precarious workers. Students and their families are bearing an ever-larger burden of the costs of higher education. Teachers, researchers and librarians are feeling the cuts and the academic mission of institutions is under threat.
Canada needs leadership from Ottawa to ensure our universities and colleges provide quality, affordable and accessible education – today and in the future. Education and research are key to meeting the challenges in building back better from the pandemic, including reducing barriers to educational attainment for marginalized groups, and ensuring young people are not burdened by education debt before entering the workforce. It is time for a shared long-term national strategy for post-secondary education and training in Canada.
- In 1990, just over 80 per cent of university operating funding came from public funding. As of 2018, that figure had plummeted to about 47 per cent. With years of declining government funding in real terms, institutions are adjusting their budgets by cutting jobs, increasing student tuition fees, and reducing programs.
- The last top-up to the federal social transfer to provinces to support the core operating costs of post-secondary education was in 2008, and the federal Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund was a one-off measure.
- Over the last decade, universities have increasingly relied on tuition fees as a revenue source. This growth is estimated to have come mostly from an increasing share of international students: from 2005-06 to 2018-19, the number of international students enrolled in Canadian universities has more than tripled.
- Public grants and contributions have declined as a percent of total revenue of Canadian universities in the last two decades, leading to this reliance on tuition fees. At the national level, the proportion of revenue from tuition fees grew from 24.7% in 2013-14 to 29.4% in 2018-2019.5
- The Department of Finance’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth calculated in 2017 that the additional funding required for adult reskilling through post-secondary education over the next decade is $3 billion.
Develop a national strategy with the provinces and territories that provides adequate, stable federal funding to support quality post-secondary education.
Canadians need a stronger federal partner for post-secondary education and research. Renewed federal leadership is needed to strengthen our research capacity, contain costs for students and their families, reduce education inequality and expand access. Investment is necessary to ensure that quality education remains accessible to students and to provide fair and sustainable opportunities in communities across our country.
- A minimum of $3 billion in direct federal funding through a dedicated education transfer to provinces and territories will ensure universities and colleges can make education more affordable for all, increase access for those who need it, and address issues of precarious work.
To ensure that provinces are active partners in supporting the post-secondary education sector, this federal funding must include accountability mechanisms to ensure that these funds are spent by the provinces as designated.
- Establish a federal post-secondary education secretariat or branch within the federal government to facilitate intergovernmental collaboration and coordinate initiatives such as research and science, student assistance, data and innovation.
It is time to agree to a long-term solid plan for post-secondary education and research. The federal government must work with the provinces, and the sector to develop a national plan to address chronic underfunding and to improve affordability, access and quality.
It is CAUT’s position that it is the obligation of the Government of Canada to encourage the equitable and sufficient development of post-secondary education and research in all regions of the country by assisting the provinces in meeting the costs thereof. Learn more: CAUT Policy on Federal/Provincial Funding of Post-Secondary Education.