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

Supporters gather during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop cafe in Mirror Alta, on Saturday May 8, 2021. The Whistle Stop was shut down by AHS for not complying with COVID-19 rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Police hand out tickets to dozens leaving anti-lockdown protest in Alberta

Hundreds gathered outside the Whistle Stop Café in the hamlet of Mirror, Alta.

Oval Race track at Central Alberta Raceway. (Photo Submitted)
Central Alberta Raceways in Rimbey delays opening after health restrictions expand

Central Alberta Raceways had originally planned to open for the season at the end of May

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Alberta leads the Prairie provinces in being the first to take COVID-19 vaccine bookings for pre-teens. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta leads Prairie provinces in accepting COVID vaccine bookings for pre-teens

The province begins accepting appointments for kids as young as 12 starting today

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
File photo
Arrest made for armed robbery in Millet, Wetaskiwin RCMP continue to investigate

Wetaskiwin RCMP are investigating an armed robbery took place May 4, 2021 in Millet, Alta.

Dr. Karina Pillay, former mayor of Slave Lake, Alta., is shown at her medical clinic in Calgary on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
10 years later: Former Slave Lake mayor remembers wildfire that burned through town

Alberta announced in 2011 that an unknown arsonist had recklessly or deliberately ignited the forest fire

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman travelling from Alberta found dead in B.C. park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel’s approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

Wolf density in Jasper is low enough that the animals would not be expected to be a major threat

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

Most Read