Postsecondary education is essential to the continued success of the economies of Ontario and Canada and, as such, must receive the funding it requires to thrive. “There is a key relationship between what goes on in our institutions of higher learning and what goes on in our economy,” said Bob Rae, former premier of Ontario and chair of the Postsecondary Education Review Panel, which is currently traversing Ontario to collect recommendations for Queen’s Park on the future of higher education.
Right: York’s President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden with Bob Rae, chair of the Postsecondary Education Review Panel
A round table session took place at Founders College on York’s Keele campus on Friday morning, when the panel visited the University to solicit the views of members of York and the surrounding community. The University’s key themes, which were outlined in the submission The York U Difference, were presented to the panel.
“A knowledge-based economy requires the best educated minds. It is simply unacceptable for Canada’s wealthiest province to rank dead last in terms of provincial funding to universities,” Marsden told Rae. “Ontario’s post-secondary education system must assert its leadership position in funding post-secondary education. We must invest in our universities now, otherwise Ontario will suffer a huge competitive disadvantage in the very near future.”
Left: Osgoode Hall Law School Dean Patrick Monahan chats with Rae
Marsden asserted that “financial aid to students must be increased” and called for a complete overhaul of the existing student financial aid system. She added that, “any move to tier institutions or differentiate along the lines of ‘teaching’ vs. ‘research’ universities would be a grave error and would seriously undermine higher education in the province.”
Rae noted that there are deep-seated social valuations that society places on higher education. “Participation and success is a very profound cultural question for the whole of our society. The expectations that children have are developed very early on in life. By the time we get to them in high school and first-year university, it is too late.”
Above: Over 100 participants attended the Postsecondary Education Review Panel hosted by York University
He added, “There is no doubt in my mind that higher education needs a much greater degree of public financial commitment from the government. Every industrial country is going through this discussion. The difference in our society today is that this is not a question for a small group of people. The real issue behind the funding debate is what is the public’s priority for higher education? What do they expect? Are we sufficiently valuing our higher education? There is a key relationship between what goes on in our institutions of higher learning and what goes on in our economy. This is one of the critical factors that has changed over the past 20 years.”
On the issue of student access and diversity, Rae concluded, “There is a deep commitment to success from institutions like York University to serve a changing population. The fact that we are serving a hugely diverse immigrant population is a new situation over the last 25 years and is something the government cannot ignore.”
York University’s submission followed on consultations with key groups and members of the York community and identified the need to:
- Lower the current student-faculty ratio by enhancing funding for more full-time faculty. This will enhance the quality of faculty-student contact, expand research capacity and ensure high quality graduate student supervision.
- Improve student financial support to ensure their success in higher education. OSAP and the entire student financial aid system must be subject to a thorough review. York opposes high tuition fees for undergraduates and favours regulated increases consistent with inflation for tuition in most undergraduate programs. In programs with deregulated tuition (for example, law and business), the government needs to ensure that fees are predictable and student assistance is more widely available and accessible.
- Provide stable, predictable government funding to allow universities to plan for the future, with regular adjustments to offset the impact of inflation. For York, the top priority is the need to adjust per student grant levels. The hallmark of a university is the inseparability of research and teaching. Tiering or the differentiation of universities along either of these lines would be unacceptable.
- Recognize the distinct roles of universities and colleges to enable students themselves to make clear, informed choices and pursue their respective pathways to success.
Marsden concluded by calling on all members of the York community to make their voices heard. She invited community members to review the University’s submission and those prepared by other members of the York community, and to participate in the final Town Hall Meeting. It will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 8 from 7:30 to 9:30pm at the University of Toronto, Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles Street West, Toronto. This will be the last opportunity for members of the York community to express their views.