A Growing Underfunding Gap
The most recent study on the underfunding of Quebec universities, published by the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ) on January 15, 2013, concludes that the underfunding gap between Quebec universities and their Canadian counterparts continues to grow at an alarming pace.
The CREPUQ study underlines the chronic underfunding of Quebec universities. The financing gap not only hinders the universities’ ability to remain competitive with their Canadian counterparts, it also brings with it heavy consequences for the Quebec society in terms of long term development and quality of life. The CREPUQ study concludes that, if Quebec universities were funded at the Canadian average, they would have received $850 million more in funding in 2009-2010. That’s $850 million more, which could have helped Quebec universities to support high quality teaching, provide top quality services to its students, and counter universities’ growing deficits.
The gap grew from $620 million in CREPUQ’s previous study to $850 million now, largely because of an increase in investment revenue for universities in other provinces, which rebounded sharply after the 2008 financial crisis. Quebec universities have lower revenues from philanthropic endowments and other investments and did not see this increase. Universities in Quebec still depend too heavily on a single source of financing: government.
CREPUQ is not the only organization to maintain that underfunding is a major problem for Quebec universities. Organizations with no stake in Quebec, such as the Council of Ontario Universities and Maclean’s University Rankings, also put Quebec in the bottom of the pack in terms of per-student financing. In Maclean’s recent rankings, Quebec’s four medical-doctoral universities ranked in the bottom five of 15 medical doctoral universities in Canada for per-student operating funding. And, in a recent report by the Council of Ontario Universities, Quebec universities took the bottom 10th spot, out of 10 provinces, for having the lowest average operating funding per student.
The methodology used by the CREPUQ study, originally developed in partnership with the Quebec government in 2002 and revised very slightly in subsequent years, uses operating funding for its comparisons. Operating funding has the most impact on students and the educational experience, as well as the overall functioning of the university. The government has questioned whether operating funding can truly be compared across provinces, since universities may differ in what they classify under operating funding. However, the data on which the study is based is widely used, including by Statistics Canada.
We firmly support CREPUQ’s position that using total funding (that is, including research and capital funding with operating funding to evaluate financing) distorts the true picture. Research and capital funds are targeted towards very specific projects, but they don’t cover the salaries of competitive professors, pay for lighting in the classrooms, or help to secure support to students – examples of just some of the essential expenses a university must make to give its students the conditions they need to learn, perform and excel.
Do you believe Quebec universities are underfunded? Is underfunding having a concrete impact on your learning needs and experience? Let us know what you think.