Drastic reform needed in university finances

It is becoming clear to students that a crisis is growing in post-secondary education. Tuition costs are on the rise — Ontario’s average tuition is now the highest in Canada while quality of education is on the decline. We are witnesses to fewer course selection opportunities, larger class sizes, congested hallways and a lack of study space. When the consensus of most economists is that Canada needs to transition into a knowledge economy, the current state of affairs is unhelpful to say the least.

We do not believe that the growth in tuition is a bad thing on its own. In tough economic times we are confronting the reality of unsustainable government finances. As such, it is becoming harder and harder to look to the province for increased funding. However, with these increases in tuition, lowering the quality of education is absolutely unacceptable.

There has been an alarming rise in administrative costs over the past several years. Universities are becoming more top heavy. 20 cents is spent on administrative costs for every dollar spent on research and instruction compared to 12 cents 20 years ago. Universities need to better examine the necessity of administrative spending and make it more transparent to students who, facing a budget crunch and poor-quality education, want answers.

The reality is far more complex than simply bloated university bureaucracies. The government has its share of the blame by tying grants to enrolment. Now that government assistance is on the decline, universities are not receiving enough money to cover the costs of dealing with the ramifications of rapidly increasing enrolment. While these grants allow them to survive financially in the short term, it pushes universities on an unsustainable course.

Nor is it all the government’s fault. By far the biggest slice of any university’s budget is faculty costs. This means a full half of the budget is off limits to reform.
There are many to blame for the continued decline in the quality of university education. It is a complex issue. But for the sake of students and Canada’s economy in the future, all parties — including students — need to get together and establish meaningful reform.