Given the upcoming election, it is widely understood that the 2018 Ontario Budget is as much a campaign platform document as a budget. While the continued implementation of reforms to student assistance are expected to further improve access for students, faculty are concerned that operating funding for universities remains stagnant, threatening the high-quality education students expect and deserve.
The lack of increased funding to support the government’s stated goals of providing fairness for contract faculty and encouraging faculty renewal is disappointing. Operating funding over the next three years is now on track to decline slightly (by 0.1%), which, when adjusted for inflation and enrolment, amounts to an even larger reduction in funding. Ontario’s universities already receive the lowest per-student funding in Canada and this budget will leave our province further behind.
The changes to student assistance announced in 2016 continue to be implemented, with parental and spousal contributions reduced for next year. This will result in more students qualifying for the grants and loans they need to afford the cost of tuition fees, which continue to increase. Investments in access are welcome, but they must be matched with operating investments in quality that support improved student-faculty ratios, smaller class sizes, full-time faculty hiring, and fairness for contract faulty. Investments in quality were missing from this year’s budget.
A one-time “support quality programs and student outcomes” fund, including $32 million for universities and $125 million for colleges will be directed towards the implementation of new labour laws passed in Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. In the university sector, we understand that it is expected to fund a portion of the cost of new minimum wage, vacation pay, and leave provisions, but no funding has been allocated to support the implementation of new equal pay provisions. It is also concerning that this funding has only been allocated for a single year, since supporting fair working conditions will require ongoing investment in Ontario’s universities.
Other ongoing initiatives noted in the budget, include continued support for eCampusOntario’s Open Textbooks Library, continued investments for mental health services, newly announced capital funding scheduled to begin in 2020-21, new experiential learning and labour market focused programming, and continued progress towards the proclamation of a French-language university.
This budget also included the expansion of OHIP+ prescription drug coverage to seniors, which will result in cost savings for benefit plans that provide drug coverage for employees over 65 or retirees. Through negotiations, this could lead to benefit improvements or premium reductions for faculty associations.
Overall, this budget leaves important faculty concerns unaddressed. Following the June 7th election, OCUFA will continue working with the new government to advocate for re-investments in universities to support improvements in per-student funding levels; establis h a more robust consultative process for Strategic Mandate Agreements; ensure core operating grants are not linked to performance metrics; establish funding to support fairness for contract faculty, including equal pay; and develop a faculty renewal strategy that supports full-time faculty hiring.