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

A Williams Lake area family living on Knife Creek Road lost everything to a house fire on Wednesday, March 3. (Photo submitted)
House fire destroys rural family home south of Williams Lake

The Macdonalds built their home on Knife Creek Road about 30 years ago

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Public input sought for B.C.’s police act review

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

International Women’s Day is March 8, 2021. (Internationalwomensday.com)
International Women’s Day 2021: #choosetochallenge

International Women’s Day is marked annually on March 8

Dawn Miller was happy to donate her art to the 100 Mile Wranglers secret bid art auction. (Photo submitted)
Wrangler secret bid art auction ‘a good cause’

Local artist Dawn Miller is contributing to the Wranglers’ auction.

(Photo submitted)
Raven Youth Centre art show goes virtual

For only one week the community will get to view work by 20 youth artists

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complains about that condo

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. A joint federal and B.C. government housing program announced today aims to help people living in up to 25,000 vulnerable households pay their rent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Federal, B.C. governments announce $517-million rent aid program to help vulnerable

Benefits for those not eligible for B.C.’s Rental Assistance Program or Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters

(BC SPCA)
Is it safe to give your dog some peanut butter? Not always, BC SPCA warns

Some commercial peanut butter ingredients can be harmful to dogs

Health Minister Adrian Dix, front, B.C. Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrive for a news conference about the provincial response to the coronavirus, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, March 6, 2020. Pandemic emergency measures have been in place for almost a year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. officials plead for patience as 1.7 million COVID-19 calls flood in

Vaccine registration for 90-plus seniors opened Monday

A West Kootenay man died in an avalanche on March 4 while snowmobiling near Mount Payne, which is indicted by the red flag. Illustration: Google Maps
B.C. father of 3 dead after avalanche in West Kootenay

The man was snowmobiling with a group when incident occurred March 4

Most Read