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  • mmantha-co

March 28, 2024

Premier Ford prefers to point fingers

over getting to work



Readers may remember my column last week on the Ford government’s attempts to put a new coat of paint on a leaky ship when it comes to education by trying to extend the number of days that retired teachers can work in a year. A similar situation is brewing in another education sector, that is, at the post-secondary level.  

The struggles in post-secondary education recently made headlines because of the Federal government’s reform of the criteria for international students entering Canada to study. Premier Ford and his ministers would have you believe that it was this action alone that caused a crisis in the sector overnight. However, that story is far from the truth. According to the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), universities in Ontario receive less funding per domestic student than universities anywhere else in Canada. To be fair to the Premier, this has been the case for decades, and multiple provincial governments are to blame.  

Ontario is also the only province in Canada that caps the number of domestic students funded at each university. Ontario’s funding model specifies a cut-off for the number of domestic students that the provincial government will support. In effect, this means that there is no incentive for universities to try to take on more students, further shrinking their budgets.  

Why, then, is the Premier pointing the finger at the federal level, saying that this crisis is on them when it is clearly a legacy problem that was inherited from previous governments? The most logical answer is that this conservative government doesn’t want to fix the problem. Whether the Premier feels it is too difficult, too expensive, or not worth his government’s time is up to interpretation. However, Ontario will suffer severe consequences if we allow our public universities to crumble.  

Current demographic trends indicate that demand for university spaces will only rise over the next decade. Without a change to the funding formula, Ontario’s young people will not be able to attain their post-secondary education in their home province, let alone their own community.  Think about how that will affect us in the North. Our region has some tremendous post-secondary institutions that offer young people a chance to get the education and skills they need for their future in our communities.  

As Ontario’s population continues to grow, fewer students will be able to get that education in the North. They will have to move south to larger urban centres and potentially out of province or out of the country. There is a potential here for a massive brain drain in the North and even across all of Ontario, where many of our best and brightest may end up attending university elsewhere out of necessity and then choose to stay there permanently. This will mean less made-in-Ontario innovation and research and fewer highly educated individuals in our workforce.  

Underfunding has also led post-secondary institutions to seek short-term cost-saving measures to compensate for the shortfall in funding. One such measure is the increasing reliance on contract faculty instead of full-time tenured faculty. In fact, OCUFA estimates that over half of faculty are now working on short-term contracts, and the number of courses they teach has doubled since 2000.  

In essence, this means that more and more staff teaching at universities are there for a short time, which means they do not have the longevity and security to provide high-quality instructional experiences for students. It also makes a career in post-secondary education less attractive to newcomers, knowing that they will most likely not find a stable full-time job for the foreseeable future. 

The solution to this manufactured crisis is to bring Ontario in line with other provinces so that we are no longer in last place in per-student funding. This would mean an annual increase of 11.7% over five years to the funding model and a commitment to a comprehensive strategy to ensure that stability is returned to the sector.  

Seeing how far Ontario has fallen behind in this sector is daunting. I can understand why the Premier would prefer to bury his head in the sand. But looking at post-secondary funding as a mere cost is the wrong frame of mind. There are excellent reasons to see the money that goes to universities as an investment.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates that investment in university education boosts gross domestic product by about $96 billion every year, and the research that Ontario’s universities drive adds another $30 billion. To provide some perspective on what the return on investment means to Ontarians, consider that for every $1 invested returns $1.36 in positive economic activity and let’s not turn our noses up on the basic premise that a highly educated populous is healthier, more engaged, and more resilient to uncertain times.  

There is no getting around the fact that post-secondary education remains vital to our society. If we do not offer a high-quality educational experience here in Ontario, our youth will look elsewhere for opportunities, and we will be poorer for it. 

Pointing the finger at the Feds is becoming the Premier’s favoured “Get Out of Jail Free” card. However, it’s not a genuine replacement for the work of making smart investments in Ontarian’s futures.

As always, I invite you to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org or call Toll-free 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha, MPP

Algoma-Manitoulin 

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