OCUFA: 2021 budget a missed opportunity to invest in Ontario’s future

Toronto, March 24, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Ontario’s university faculty and academic librarians are disappointed that the 2021 Ontario Budget fails to adequately invest in Ontario’s universities to put them on secure financial footing. University faculty and academic librarians have played an essential role developing the science and research that continues to inform Ontario’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their research and expertise have helped keep Ontarians safe during the pandemic and will be vital for supporting the province’s economic recovery.

The budget doesn’t increase operating grants for universities, which continues the chronic underfunding of Ontario’s public university system. Under the Ford government, per-student funding for universities will drop even further, as institutions will be expected to increase enrolment over the next three years without any additional money. Meanwhile, the government’s reckless performance-based funding framework threatens additional cuts, further destabilizing a sector already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and jeopardizing our economic recovery.

“Ontario’s university faculty and academic librarians were looking for a budget that recognizes the challenges Ontario’s universities have faced over the last year and the important role they will play in helping the province—and its economy—rebuild from this pandemic. This budget fails to adequately invest in the future of Ontario’s universities,” said Rahul Sapra, President of OCUFA. “Instead, the Ford government continues to ignore the consistent and damaging erosion of university funding that has been led to the the funding crisis at Laurentian University.”

The 2021 budget misses the opportunity to support Laurentian University, which has been struggling in the absence of adequate public funding, the additional costs triggered by the pandemic, and poor administrative decision-making. Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano and Premier Doug Ford are failing in their responsibilities to protect the integrity of an important public university. Cuts to this unique northern institution will have devastating consequences for a northern economy that has “not yet fully recovered from the previous recession” as is stated in the budget document itself.

The Budget includes $21.4 million in new funding to enhance virtual learning in postsecondary education. While this money may help provide additional supports to those teaching and learning online, there are serious concerns regarding instruction, governance, and quality assessment of courses offered though the Virtual Learning Strategy initiative. It is also important to emphasize that neither faculty nor students believe that virtual learning should be the “new normal.”

The Budget also expands OSAP eligibility for those studying at Indigenous institutes or pursuing micro-credentials, but it does not match this expansion with additional OSAP funding. OCUFA wholeheartedly supports expanding OSAP eligibility to Indigenous institutes and reiterates our position that the Ontario government should increase the already underfunded student assistance budget.

“No one knows how to advance Ontario’s exceptional postsecondary education system better than the faculty and academic librarians working on its front lines,” said Sapra. “Yet, this government has failed to publicly consult with faculty, academic librarians, and many other stakeholders ahead of this budget. This government’s pattern of making major policy announcements without consultation is concerning and reveals itself in the poor decisions being made by Ford and Romano.”

Universities will play a central role in Ontario’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty and academic librarians understand the economic and social challenges of this recovery and are ready to put solutions forward. The question is, will the government listen and provide the funding to ensure a vibrant future for Ontario?

Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 professors and academic librarians in 30 faculty associations across Ontario. It is committed to enhancing the quality of higher education in Ontario and recognizing the outstanding contributions of its members towards creating a world-class university system. For more information, please visit the OCUFA website at www.ocufa.on.ca.