The provincial government has signaled that it intends to review the formula according to which funding is allocated to universities. Over the coming weeks, OCUFA Report will run a series of think pieces related to the funding formula – what it looks like currently and what it might look like in the future. First in the series is the articulation of key principles that should direct public funding for universities in Ontario.
Robust and adequate public funding for universities is crucial for a strong and thriving higher education sector. The formula that establishes the basis for allocating operating funding for Ontario universities is foundational and should be designed to foster excellence in research and teaching while ensuring that postsecondary education remains affordable and accessible. But universities in Ontario have been dealing with accumulated underfunding for years. As such, any review or update of the funding formula must not be driven by a desire to constrain government funding, but rather must aim to improve the quality of postsecondary education.
OCUFA believes that the formula according to which Ontario’s universities are funded should be guided by the following principles. Funding must be:
Adequate: Public funding for universities must provide adequate resources to support a high quality and affordable higher education sector.
Committed to core activities: A funding formula should protect and promote the two core activities of a university: excellent teaching and learning, and world-class research.
Student-centred: Funding must be responsive to the number of students in the system and the programs in which those students are enrolled.
Supportive of good jobs: Universities should receive adequate funding to support good jobs on their campuses. For faculty, this means ensuring fair terms and conditions of employment for contract faculty and hiring sufficient numbers of tenure-stream faculty to maintain high academic standards and fair workloads.
Stable and predictable: Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that funding is stable and predictable to facilitate long-term planning and to avoid extreme fluctuations in institutional revenue.
Equitable: Funding should be allocated among institutions on a fair and equitable basis to protect against wide variations in quality across the system and to support student success at all universities. Any system that allocates or withholds funding on the basis of institutional performance or output measures will result in the creation of “winners” and “losers” and will penalize students at institutions that fail to reach their targets.
Transparent: Any formula for allocating funding must be transparent, simple to administer and objective. It should not be arbitrary or open to manipulation or negotiations behind closed doors. Above all, university funding must not be subject to short-term political objectives.
Respectful of university autonomy and academic freedom: Universities and professors have rich practical knowledge of their institutional and pedagogical needs and strengths. Any funding formula must respect institutions’ and professors’ ability to pursue strategies that enable them to do what they do best.