Back from the brink

Restoring public funding to Ontario’s universities
November 30, 2023
1.71 MB94 pages

Over the last three decades, no province in Canada has moved more aggressively, or more consistently, to cut public funding to universities than Ontario. Ontario’s funding model, if it can be called that, is simply less funding, year after year.

Provincial underfunding has undermined the very values and purposes that are central to the university mission. Ideals like academic freedom and university autonomy are highly valued by universities. But underfunded institutions thrust into a market economy where knowledge is profit face intense pressures to bend those ideals to serve other priorities. Given the multiple ill effects of the province’s funding “model,” it is clear that Queen’s Park needs to rethink its approach to supporting public universities. It is not enough to let market forces and technological change decide universities’ future. A laissez-faire approach will not work.

This report begins with an overview of the role of public universities in Ontario and their impacts on the social and economic life of the province. That is followed by a review of the evolution of university funding in Ontario; the impact of the changes on students, faculty and staff, university research capacity, and individual universities and their communities; and a look at provincial funding for universities in the context of Queen’s Park’s approach to funding public services generally. Lastly, the authors call for renewed provincial investment in public universities to allow them to fulfill their true missions and purposes and expand their vital role in the life of the province.