Ontario universities campaign for a better deal

Ontario universities are mounting a cooperative public awareness advertising campaign to drive home the message to the provincial government that universities here are cash strapped and underfunded compared to those in other provinces.

According to the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), which represents 18 Ontario universities including York, plus the Ontario College of Art & Design and the Royal Military College, the $6,000 per student received by Ontario universities is markedly lower than the average of $8,275 received by universities in the rest of Canada. It is also 40 per cent lower than that for public universities in the United States. The decline in funding has represented a slippery slope for Ontario’s postsecondary institutions, amounting to a drop of 25 per cent over the last decade.

Added to the picture is the cost of deferred maintenance in Ontario universities which could run as high as $1.3 billion, a figure that still does not include the cost of adaptation and renewal of buildings, furniture and equipment.

The print and radio advertising campaign was conceived and organized by the COU. Funding for the campaign will come from the universities’ operating budgets, with each member contributing a share based on enrolment. In addition, the COU is participating in pre-budget consultations with the provincial government. The government, which will deliver its budget later this spring, is coping with a $5.6 billion deficit and has asked for input about its future spending priorities.

The campaign, which began on March 11, focuses on answering the government’s question,  “What does the province of Ontario need to do to ensure its continued strength, vitality and quality of life?” The COU has answered that question with three distinct radio ads illustrating that poorly educated business, arts and healthcare professionals are unable to cope with the demands of their profession. The radio ads ran for three weeks in all communities that are home to an Ontario university.

Complementing the radio spots is a full-page print ad for daily newspapers. It will also be a part of many university publications and alumni magazines. The ad explains five key priorities for universities and ends with the message “Ontario cannot continue with the lowest university funding in Canada.”

Left:  The smaller graphic represents the $6,000 in funding per student received by Ontario universities while the larger graphic represents the $8,275 in funding per student received by universities in the rest of Canada. 

With funding per student at an all time low and demand for space remaining high due to the bulge in enrolment caused by the double cohort, Ontario universities are in a funding conundrum. Currently, Ontario universities spend approximately $13,850 per full-time student, per year. The money to support this spending comes from provincial operating grants (51 per cent), tuition fees (40 per cent) and institutional sources of revenue such as private giving and endowment income (nine per cent).

To view a full explanation of the COU funding argument, see data sources and the print ad, and listen to portions of the radio campaign, visit the COU Web site.