President makes case for strong funding for university education

York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden appealed to Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal governments Thursday to make clear and positive commitments to future funding for postsecondary education and thereby recognize the “seed-corn role” that university graduates play in the future of society.

Lorna R. Marsden, York UniversitySpeaking to members of Toronto’s Empire Club, Marsden said deterioration in the quality of education at all of Ontario’s 18 universities came at a time when “the country and the province focused almost exclusively on debt and deficit reduction and health care”.

Right: Lorna R. Marsden, York president and vice-chancellor, speaks to members of the Empire Club in Toronto

“Highly talented faculty have fled to other jurisdictions with better research facilities, smaller class sizes and greater public interest in their work,” said Marsden.

The talk at the Empire Club luncheon by Marsden and Rick Miner, president of Seneca College, came as universities and colleges await a response to the report on postsecondary education for the Ontario government by former premier Bob Rae, released in February. Marsden commended the report, urging government to consider recommendations for “keeping up the strength of faculty and facilities.”

The appeal comes as the provincial government prepares to announce its 2005-2006 budget. Marsden urged the provincial government to “give students hope for an education that makes them competitive in the North American and global economies” by considering “a long-term plan for universities, a reorientation of spending to invest in students, and a commitment to work with other levels of government to drive additional commitments to the rising generations” of students.

Calling the Rae report a “cogent case for better funding”, Marsden said “it is not by accident that both applications and enrolments in university have been growing in Ontario way beyond the spaces needed for the double cohort. Students and their families know that a university degree improves the quality, the length and the rewards of their lives.”

Citing lower per-capita funding than other provinces and the replacement of grants with student loans, Marsden also said that, in Ontario, “we have been letting our students and potential students down badly.”

Rae, she said, made an “excellent, detailed case for more and better funding for all students and for restoring the Ontario Student Opportunity Trust Fund – a plan of matching grants from those generous citizens who donate to scholarships and bursaries.”

Looking forward to York’s 50th anniversary in 2009, Marsden said that by then, “we hope, we believe, that the impact of the Rae Review will have been realized: that our faculty will be even stronger, that our interdisciplinary commitments will be recognized for what they are – important to our students and the communities in which our graduates will work and live…and that Ontario universities will once again be competitive not only across Canada but around the globe.”