Why we need a federal plan for post-secondary education

The problem: a post-secondary education system that is falling behind 

Our post-secondary education system is so publicly underfunded that it may be ill-prepared to help Canada weather the storm of a post-pandemic world and adapt to new realities including accelerated climate change. With the onset of COVID, universities and colleges were largely left out of government emergency support spending. The last increase in federal investment for core post-secondary education funding occurred in 2008 but was made without agreements with the provinces to strengthen post-secondary education.  As a result, little has improved in the last decade.  

Here is a snapshot:   

  • The pandemic dramatically decreased first-year and international student enrolment and drove up unemployment and workload for academic staff.  
  • In Ontario, universities have noted a $1 billion dollar deficit.
  • Laurentian University of Sudbury, Ontario, in an unprecedented move, declared insolvency on February 1 this year, laying off over 100 staff, cutting programs and creating chaos for thousands of students, the majority of whom were the first in their families to go to university.  Laurentian University is important to both the Indigenous and Francophone communities in Northern Ontario.
  • In response to provincial cuts, Memorial University of Newfoundland recently hiked tuition by 130%. 

The impact: less quality education and research and greater inequities

Underfunding threatens to erode the quality of Canada’s post-secondary education system and contribute to greater inequities. We are falling behind in science and research to tackle the important challenges of our time, including pandemic preparedness and climate change.  A precarious workforce is one of the reasons: one-in-three academic staff in Canada are working contract-to-contract, some earning less than a living wage. Meanwhile, almost half of all students graduate with student loan debt. Higher tuition fees and rising debt burdens for women, people of colour, Indigenous, LGBTQ, people living in rural or remote areas at a time when these groups are already struggling with greater inequities emerging from the pandemic. As a country committed to quality research and equity, we can and must do better.

The numbers:  

  • Aboriginal academics remain significantly underrepresented in the academy, making up just 1.4% of all university professors and 3% of college instructors in 2016. 
  • Racialized, Aboriginal and women post-secondary teachers are less likely to have full-time, full-year employment. 
  • Full-time women university teachers on average earn 90 cents on the dollar earned by their male counterparts.
  • The gap is deepest for racialized women college instructors who earn only 63 cents on the dollar and racialized women professors who earn an average 68 cents for every dollar. 
  • Almost half (46%) of graduates have student loan debt. 
  • The average student debt at graduation is $22,276.
  • The majority of Canadians (8 in 10) agree that those without financial means to afford post-secondary education should not have this experience denied to them. 

Our solution: invest in post-secondary education for a stronger Canada 

CAUT is calling for strong federal leadership that will increase an investment in post-secondary education and research and boost Canada’s post-pandemic recovery.  Specifically, CAUT is calling for an increase of $3 billion dollars to transfers to the provinces for public post-secondary education.  Alongside the funding, we are asking the federal government to work with the provinces on a national strategy for post-secondary education that focuses on access and affordability for all.  Priorities for funding should include closing the research funding gap, investments in Indigenous education and more funding for Canada Student Grants.   

Recent polling from CAUT shows that Canadians agree: 

  • Most Canadians believe post-secondary education is more relevant than ever, with 70% agreeing that “it has never been more important to get a post-secondary education given the changes in the economy and society”. 
  • When told that Canada has the highest rate of residents with a post-secondary degree among comparable countries, two-thirds (65%) of respondents feel it makes Canada a better place to live, a view that’s held across demographic, regional, and socio-economic groups. A majority of all political party supporters feel this way as well. 
  • 93% of Canadians would pursue post-secondary education if there were no tuition.
  • 57% of Canadians believe that post-secondary education is a key part of the solution to climate change.  

CAUT has created briefs to give further information on five key issues within the post-secondary sector.