Universities, colleges need funding (Editorial, May 20, 2002)

By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/17/2002

Ottawa and the provinces have been trying to help employers with the search for talent by strategizing to develop skills, as well as rewriting immigration policy to speed the entry of experienced workers. But while governments have been active in developing a skills agenda and overhauling immigration, the backbone of talent development — the country’s post-secondary institutions — are being deprived of the funding needed to do the job.

The latest report to detail the state of post-secondary budgets comes from the C.D. Howe Institute. The study,

Renovating the Ivory Tower: Canadian Universities and the Knowledge Economy

, warns universities are seriously short of resources and government funding has fallen well behind public-funding in the United States. Furthermore, the manner in which Canadian governments supply funds, in addition to the need for public-sector contracts and gifts, is skewing education towards science and engineering, and away from humanities that are also essential in the development of workers for a knowledge-based economy.

The attention to the skills agenda and immigration is an easy call for government because it mostly involves committees and discussions, whereas addressing post-secondary needs requires cash.

The usual government tactic of restructuring to reduce costs — we’ve seen how well they’ve played that card with elementary schools and the health-care sector — doesn’t seem to be viable when it comes to higher education. So, costs go up, the quality of education goes down and tuition increases begin making education prohibitive for many.

What’s missing is solid support for inclusive, world-class education capable of meeting (and anticipating) employer needs for talent. Governments can be notoriously shortsighted, something businesses can’t afford when it comes to supplying the talent needed for productivity and global competitiveness. So while some Canadians can’t get the education they need, the country begs workers from other nations to help out by taking up Canadian residence.

In addition to a viable post-secondary funding strategy for the long-term, Ontario’s universities and colleges need a few hundred million dollars for their operating budgets immediately.

The elimination of Grade 13 means two classes of high school students will graduate together in 2003. Known as the double cohort, 68,000 more students will be applying to attend the province’s universities and colleges. There’ll be a ripple effect across the country as well, as at least twice as many Ontarians will be looking to attend institutions in other provinces, and there will be less opportunities for out-of-province students in Ontario schools.

Universities and colleges have made it clear they don’t have the money to hire the teachers and equip the classrooms they need to accommodate all applicants. It is estimated 20,000 Ontario high schools grads could be denied post-secondary education in the province. The government disputes the figure, as governments are wont to do, but in any case actions will speak louder than words, and it looks like the Conservatives may have to spend to fix the problem if they want to keep the promise that students won’t suffer for education restructuring.

Global markets, productivity and Canada’s standard of living are all linked to the success or failure of post-secondary institutions to supply business with human capital. Clearly it’s time for governments to put some cash on the table.

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