The Ontario government's operating grants to the province's universities, allowing for inflation and enrolment growth, declined by $348 million, or 17%, between 1995-96 and 2000-01, according to a study--University Funding Cuts: Shortchanging Ontario Students--released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
The study, by researchers Hugh Mackenzie and Mark Rosenfeld, found that the government's reliance on tuition fee increases to offset its funding shortfall has imposed onerous hardships on many students.
Even before the cutbacks began in 1995, Ontario's support of its universities, on a per-student basis, was below that of every other province except Nova Scotia. Over the past six years the funding gap between Ontario and the average of the other provinces has widened from $1,114 per student to $1,734 per student.
Over the same period, correcting for enrolment growth and inflation, the researchers found that tuition and other fees paid by Ontario's university students, in total, have increased by $579 million, or 69%.
In 1999, the provincial government argued that an acceptable level of tuition fees as a proportion of post-secondary education revenue was 35%, and made that its target. But by last year tuition had increased to 41% of operating revenue, and to as much as 50% in some individual institutions.
The authors conclude that the cuts in government grants and the shifting of the financial burden to students have severely restricted many potential students' access to higher education and undermine the principle of universality.
"Even in normal times," they say, "this would be cause for alarm. But with a double-cohort of high school graduates looming because of the phase-out of OAC, the crisis in university financing is bound to worsen, penalizing students even more."