Declining Levels of Support
Since the election of the Conservative Government in 1995, university finance has been radically undermined. Measured on a consistent basis, and allowing for inflation and enrolment growth, Ontario's operating support for universities declined by $348 million, or 17%, between 1995-6 and 2000-1.
A level of support that was already below that of every province except for Nova Scotia on a per-student basis, and the lowest in Canada on a per-capita basis, has declined even further. The funding gap between Ontario and the average of the nine other provinces widened from $1,114 per student in 1995-6 to $1,734 per student in 2000-1.
To maintain the real per-student value of Ontario's 1995-6 operating grant commitment to universities in Ontario, grants would have had to increase to $2.050 billion. The actual figure of $1.703 billion represents a cut in real terms and allowing for enrolment growth of $348 million, or 17%, compared with the adjusted 1995-6 figure. Based on preliminary Ministry grants data for 2001-2, which show a slight cut in grants from 2000-1 to 2001-2, the corresponding total for 2001-2 will be an estimated $404 million. In other words, provincial grants to universities for 2001-2 were more than $400 million below their 1995-6 level, after adjustment for inflation and enrolment growth.
Students: Bearing the Financial Burden
In the 1999 election platform document, the government credited itself with having achieved the following target: "Tuition fees are an important part of the way we fund a healthy post-secondary education system. ... To restore the balance in funding for colleges and universities, we brought tuition fees back to the reasonable and affordable 35% [of the cost of providing university and college courses]."
In reality, the Tories' target for the student tuition burden has been "overachieved" by a substantial amount. From levels of 22% in 1991-2 and 29% in 1995-6, the year of the change in government in Ontario, tuition increased to 41% of operating revenue by 2000-1.
Since the Conservatives' 1992 target of 25%, this represents an additional burden on students of $375 million and a corresponding reduction of $375 million in provincial support.
After correcting for enrolment growth, tuition and fees increased by $656 million or 86% between 1995-6 and 2000-1. Even after allowing for inflation, tuition and fees increased by $579 million, or 69%.
Ontario Universities: How Do Their Finances Compare?
The 11 Ontario universities with enrolment over 10,000, which together account for 86% of total university enrolment in the province, lost an absolute total of $89 million between 1995-6 and 2000-1. Adjusted for inflation and enrolment growth, the loss comes to $324 million for these 11 institutions.
The biggest losers, on an adjusted basis, were the Universities of Toronto ($127 million), Waterloo,($31 million), Western ($30 million), Guelph ($30 million) and Queen's ($29 million).
On a per-student basis, the biggest losers were the Universities of Toronto ($2,578) and Guelph ($2,092). Major universities typically lost between $1,500 and $2,000 per student in grants.
The 11 largest universities increased tuition by a total of $513 million, with a net benefit of $423 million after the student aid hold-back.
With the hold-back, the 11 largest universities as a group raised approximately $100 million more from tuition and fee increases than they lost from provincial grants reductions.
The largest tuition increases were at Queen's ($2,851); York ($2,734); Wilfrid Laurier ($2,353); and Western ($2,060).
Tuition varies substantially as a share of operating revenue from university to university: in 2000-1, the share ranged from a low of 32% to a high of over 50%. All but two institutions were above the Tories' 1999 target of 35%.