Looking at the big picture: A breakdown of university funding in Ontario through the decades

From the Spring 2018 Issue

University revenues by student and government funding sources

Ontario student fees have accounted for a greater share of current university revenues (primarily operating and research) than provincial government grants in only two stretches over the course of nearly a century. The first was a five-year stretch beginning in 1945-46 when the federal Department of Veterans Affairs paid tuition fees on behalf of veterans. The second started five years ago in 2012-13.

A similar trend occurs when examining the percentage of combined revenue contributed by student fees compared to provincial and federal operating funding. In only two years have student fees outweighed the magnitude of funding from both the provincial and federal governments—in 1947-48 and again almost exactly seventy years later in 2016-17 in what could be the beginning of a new era.

About the data series

The data series is developed from two main sources:

  1. Data from 1920-21 to 1969-70 are derived from the Statistics Canada dataset on University education expenditures, by direct source of funds and type of expenditures, annual (dollars). The principal data on university revenues are based on the Financial Information of Universities and Colleges and predecessor surveys.
  2. Data from 1970-71 to present are based on the Financial Report of Ontario Universities produced by the Council of Ontario Financial Officers (COFO). COFO data are based on a sum of funds for operating, sponsored research, trust and special purpose, and net income/loss from ancillary enterprises. Capital funds and designated endowment income are excluded.

Federal funding in one form or another has long figured in the picture of university revenues, and has been included for three reasons. First, substantial university operating support was provided by Veterans Affairs supplementary grants and then through federal per capita grants until 1967-68, when federal funding was redirected to provincial governments to distribute. How much was directed to universities and colleges became purely notional once the federal government combined and reduced provincial transfers with the creation of the Canada Health and Social Transfer in 1996-97. Second, before 1960-61, Statistics Canada data on university revenues do not distinguish funds as being operating or assisted/sponsored research—research in addition to that already supported by operating funds. Finally, the proportions of federal and provincial government operating and sponsored research money for universities vary over time and between jurisdictions according to government policies and priorities. AM


Data sources
  • Statistics Canada, CANSIM table 478-0007 – University education expenditures, by direct source of funds and type of expenditures, annual (dollars) (accessed: December 16, 2013) for years 1945-46 to 1969-70. Data for intervening years 1946-67 to 1949-50 and 1951-52 to 1953-54 are drawn from Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Survey of higher education, 1946/48-1961/62, CS81-402-PDF. For 1946-47 and 1947-48, the federal total was reported: Geographic distribution was estimated by assuming it was the same as the average distribution for 1945-46 and 1948-49. Additional data drawn from Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Higher education in Canada, 1936/38-1944/46. CS81-402E-PDF for years 1920-21 to 1944-45.
  • Council of Ontario Finance Officers, Financial Report of Ontario Universities, for years 1970-71 to 2016-17 (Committee of Finance Officers, Revenue and Expenses of Ontario Universities before 1982-83).