The election of a majority Liberal government in the June 12, 2014 Ontario election has a number of important implications for professors and academic librarians in the province.
During the election, OCUFA analyzed the higher education platforms of the Liberal Party as well as those of the other main parties, posted the response of the parties to the OCUFA party questionnaire, and provided a platform report card. All of this analysis can help us understand what the Liberal government might do next on the higher ed file.
It is likely that the newly-elected Liberal government’s direction for higher education will be a continuation of funding and policy initiatives already underway. Those initiatives were reiterated in the 2014 Ontario Budget released prior to the election call. Premier Wynne has stated her intention to recall the Legislature within the next 20 days, deliver a Throne Speech, and re-table the 2014 Budget.
The 2014 Budget contains a “road map” for government spending and policy directions in higher education and in other policy and program areas over the next few years. In terms of university funding, there will be a continuation of a multi-year operating funding originally announced in the 2012 Budget. The McGuinty and then Wynne governments have committed to increasing by 60,000 the number of government-funded student places provided by Ontario colleges and universities by 2017-18. The figure for universities alone is 41,000.
Over the next three years, operating funding is scheduled to increase by almost three per cent. Taking account of inflation and enrolment growth, however, operating funding will actually decline. For universities, there will be a real drop in total funding, something like 2.5 per cent. Funding per “eligible” student – those for whom universities receive provincial operating support – will fall 7.5 per cent over the next three years. As OCUFA noted in its analysis of the 2014 Budget, real per student provincial funding has been falling since 2008-09, but this coming year it will be its lowest since the Liberals came to power in 2003. By the end of the current planning horizon, it would be its lowest since the higher education expansion started in the sixties. Funding reductions, originally announced in the 2012 Budget as “policy lever efficiencies”, the international student head tax, and cuts teacher education will also stay in place. Ontario will continue to remain in last place in operating funding per student compared to other Canadian provinces, and continue to have the highest student/faculty ratios in the country.
Funding in other areas of university operations will be increased but still fall short of need. There will be additional $500 million over 10 years for deferred maintenance. This is still a long way from the average $380 million per year the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) estimates is required simply to maintain the existing infrastructure. Research infrastructure will receive $250 million over three years, and there will be some new funding for specific research initiatives, such as the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo and for the Trillium Advanced Manufacturing Network at Western.
In terms of the government funding implications for collective bargaining, while the government did not reiterate, as it has previously, its desire for 0% wage increases, it has stated that in the Broader Public Sector any increases in wages and salaries will have to come out of existing funds. The government will not provide extra funding to cover those increases. What that means specifically in practice for the university sector is yet to be determined but it will be no surprise that we are continuing an era of difficult bargaining and austerity funding. And, Ontario’s universities will continue to lack the financial resources they need to address the shortage of faculty hiring and quality improvements they require.
On the pension front, the government has announced directions in some areas that OCUFA has supported. In terms of pension asset pooling, it has stated any asset polling will be voluntary –that is, no pension plan will be forced to pool its assets in a larger plan. OCUFA has always maintained that any asset pooling must be voluntary. The 2014 Budget also announced it would create enabling legislation, necessary to allow single employer plans to be transferred to jointly sponsored pension plans. OCUFA has called for this in order that faculty associations interested in pursuing a multi-employer JSPP for the university sector can create such a plan. OCUFA has also supported the creation of an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan to complement the Canadian Pension Plan – to enhance the retirement security of those who don’t have workplace pensions.
The push for greater “differentiation” of Ontario universities will continue, underpinned by the government’s differentiation policy framework released in November 2013, and the Strategic Mandate Agreements that all but two universities have recently signed. It remains to be seen how specifically the government will use funding to promote greater “differentiation”, but we know already that Strategic Mandate Agreements will guide new program approvals, as well as graduate space allocation. Changes to the funding formula are also being considered – but how the formula will be changed, and the degree to which “differentiation” and “outcomes” will be built into the formula, is unknown. OCUFA will be calling for public consultations and stakeholder input in any changes to the university funding formula, and directly engaging the government on this concern, as well as continuing to engage the government on its entire “differentiation” agenda.
The government is committed to creating new satellite campuses, as part of its “Major Capital Expansion Policy Framework”, released in December 2013. Requests for proposals are due in September 2014. According to this policy, major expansion must support government priorities, including institutional differentiation, strategic enrolment management, and the need to address currently under-served areas of postsecondary demand. There has been no funding announced for this initiative to date. We will be engaging closely with the government on implementation and funding decisions to ensure that they support good outcomes for students and faculty. It will be important to strike the right balance between teaching and research at any new campus, and ensure that faculty who teach and research at them enjoy the same job security and working conditions as their colleagues on the main campus.
The government will continue its push to expand online education and credit transfer at universities and colleges. In January, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities announced the creation of the Ontario Online Centre of Excellence to promote and facilitate great offering of online university and college courses. OCUFA’s online education ad hoc committee has met with the steering committee tasked with setting up Ontario Online, will be submitting a brief next week outlining faculty concerns, and will continue to engage with this initiative to ensure quality education and faculty rights are preserved.
The dynamics of a majority government are very different from those of a minority, as the Liberals now have a freer hand to introduce new initiatives. OCUFA will continue to advocate vigorously on behalf of faculty and academic librarians for the high quality, well-resourced, affordable and accessible university system that our students deserve and Ontario needs.