A man walks across the Dalhousie University campus in Halifax on March 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

A man walks across the Dalhousie University campus in Halifax on March 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

University unions, students and faculty summon Ottawa for more education funding

The federal government said it’s already providing significant support to universities and students

Ottawa needs to address the funding and access problems regarding post-secondary education that have been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a coalition of university faculty, student and labour groups.

Rising tuition coupled with pandemic-induced unemployment is reducing access to education and training, the coalition says in its report, called “Education for All,” released Tuesday. Many people who have lost their jobs in the past year are unable to afford the training that could help them get back to work, it says.

“The pandemic has just brought everything into focus. It’s magnified and it’s concentrated the inequities that we’ve been jumping up and down for a while,” Brenda Austin-Smith, president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said in a recent interview.

The coalition, which also includes the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the National Union of Public and General Employees, is asking Ottawa to increase transfers for post-secondary education by at least $3 billion a year.

That permanent increase would bring the federal contribution per student back to 1992 levels, it says.

“Canada is 27 out of 33 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries when it comes to the proportion of public funding that goes into post-secondary,” Austin-Smith said. “We’re behind Greece, we’re behind Turkey.”

Currently, 47 per cent of funding for post-secondary education in Canada comes from government sources, she said, down from 70 per cent in late 1970s.

“Average domestic undergraduate tuition has increased by 215 per cent since 1980, after accounting for inflation,” the report says. Over that same period, average graduate tuition has increased by 247 per cent.

The federal government said it’s already providing significant support to universities and students.

“Our government is supporting post-secondary students who are feeling the economic impacts of COVID-19,” John Power, spokesman for Innovation, Science and Industry minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, said in an email.

“This includes action to directly support students, as well as the important research work being done in universities and health institutes.”

Power said that in May, the government announced $450 million in funding “to help Canada’s academic community sustain Canada’s research excellence and protect our research talent.”

Nicole Brayiannis, deputy national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, said the pandemic was the “last straw.” Many students, she explained in a recent interview, were already taking on significant debt before the pandemic and as of 2015 — the most recent data her organization has — average student debt at graduation in Canada was $28,000.

Many students have been unable to find work during the pandemic and many don’t qualify for government assistance programs, Brayiannis said. The federal government, she added, has not yet enacted a one-year interest freeze on the federal portion of student loans it promised in the fall economic update.

Students have also struggled with the shift to remote learning, which has left many feeling isolated, Brayiannis said.

“There’s so much that gets left out of online learning,” she said. “You don’t have access to libraries, there’s no access to lab work for many students right now and that’s such a critical and essential part of learning.”

The coalition says it’s also worried about universities’ reliance on part-time teaching staff who work on contract. Austin-Smith said those employees account for around 50 per cent of Canada’s university teachers, who she said often have “lousy contracts” that don’t include benefits.

The pandemic has also exposed problems with Canadian universities’ strategies of recruiting international students, who pay more than four-and-a-half times the tuition paid by Canadians, something the report describes as “unfair and unsustainable.”

Austin-Smith said that while she appreciates that the federal government has taken on massive debt during the pandemic, “it’s the worst time to talk about austerity” when it comes to education.

“It’s not the time to pull back and say we can’t afford this,” she said. “We’re talking about justice, we’re talking about safety, we’re talking about the right of the populace to the education they need.”

READ MORE: B.C. colleges, universities allowed to run COVID-19 deficits

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusUniversities and Colleges

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Regenerative farming that meets genuine needs should take priority over commercial recklessness, says columnist. (Stock photo)
Column: Hubris, greed causing humans to live destructively

Placing the economy as the top priority is licence to destroy natural systems, says columnist

Kyle Patrick McGuire was give a nine-month non-custodial sentencing to be followed by two years of probation on Wednesday, March 3, at the Nanaimo Law Courts. (PQB News file photo)
Bowser man sentenced to house arrest after guilty plea to child pornography offence

Nine-month non-custodial sentence to be followed by two years probation

A concept for development of the Green Thumb property in north Nanaimo. (Barefoot Planning and Design image)
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Develop land with care and thought

It’s getting to the point that you can’t go a block without seeing more apartments, says letter writer

Nanaimo Community Archives is looking for submissions from homeowners who took on exterior renovation projects, no matter how big or how small, for the first Heritage House Renovations Awards. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo archives holding first Heritage House Renovation Awards

Judges want photos and descriptions of exterior renovations that enhanced character of Nanaimo homes

Nanaimo Courthouse. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Justice system is failing us

Crime rampant, police overworked, businesses targeted, citizens unsafe, says letter writer

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

A rendering of Front Street transportation improvements set to get underway as soon as next week. (McElhanney image/City of Nanaimo)
Work set to start on Front Street cycle track in downtown Nanaimo

Road work and street reconfiguration project scheduled to start in March, finish in May

The Regional District of Nanaimo’s board is forwarding a motion on illegal dumping to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities’ upcoming annual general meeting. (Kane Blake photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo motion seeks to ask province for help to combat illegal dumping

RDN resolution to be forwarded to Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Most Read