University under-funding is growing worse

January 17, 2013

Open letter from Michel Patry, Director, HEC Montréal, and Member of the Executive Committee, Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities (CREPUQ)

A new study by CREPUQ shows that, compared to other Canadian universities, the operating budgets of Quebec universities were under-funded by $850 million in 2009-2010, which equals 24% of their operating budgets that year. The amount represents $4,000 per full-time student. The shortfall has continued to grow since it was first measured at $375 million in 2002 by a joint committee created by CREPUQ and the Ministry of Education.

This situation has been widely acknowledged over the last decade, including, in particular, by the political parties in the National Assembly, student associations and the Quebec Federation of University Professors (FQPPU).

The study is based on the best data available from Statistics Canada and the Canadian Association of University Business Officers (CAUBO), and they are considered very reliable. Both the methodology, which is very similar to that used in previous studies on the same subject in both Ontario and Quebec, and the results have been verified by a group consisting of institutional and financial analysts from the universities and by the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en analyse des organisations (CIRANO).

In very concrete terms, the study shows that, in 2009-2010, Quebec universities had about $850 million less than the average Canadian university with which to hire teaching and support staff, provide pedagogical and guidance support for students, maintain library collections and laboratory equipment, combat the problems of aging buildings erected more than 40 years ago, and meet other critical needs.

In other words, Quebec universities will have $850 million less than their counterparts in other provinces to educate physicians, engineers, teachers, managers, architects and others, all of whom we want to have the best possible training resulting in degrees the value of which is recognized at home and around the world.


Pressing needs
The universities themselves are best placed to make the soundest reinvestment decisions, taking into consideration the conditions of their milieu and the specific needs of their institutions.

Nonetheless, there are a number of priority needs common to all: hiring teachers and providing teaching support; hiring professional and support staff; supporting students to allow them to pursue their education and achieve their goals; upgrading libraries and technical equipment; increasing financial aid to graduate students; supporting internationalisation; and strengthening ties to local communities.

The Higher Education Summit is a watershed moment for our society. The study submitted this week by CREPUQ, which is among the most rigorous ever done, presents a comprehensive picture of the under-funding of university operating budgets in Quebec, compared to universities in the rest of Canada. In my opinion, this study sets the table for a realistic, responsible discussion of the critical issues facing our universities and a collaborative effort to identify potential solutions.

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