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OPSEU College support/soutien. Personnel de soutien a temps plein des colleges.

Funding the Future: Key recommendations for an evolving college system

Funding the Future: Key recommendations for an evolving college system

We the North
We the North
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A submission by OPSEU’s CAAT-Support Division to the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development’s consultation on College Funding Model Reform

Introduction

“Community colleges are the hearts of Ontario’s communities. Properly funded, they can deepen social and economic development, while encouraging academic achievement and providing quality employment.”

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President, OPSEU

When Ontario’s applied arts college system was established by then Minister of Education Bill Davis nearly five decades ago, he could not have imagined the current form and function of today’s publicly-funded colleges.

The province’s 24 Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAATs) have grown and developed beyond their original mandate of providing technical and vocational education to high school graduates not bound for university.

Ontario’s colleges have expanded their programs to include applied, bachelor degree and post-graduate education.  CAATs today educate a growing segment of the population, as less than 35 per cent of college applicants in the 2014-15 academic year came in directly from Ontario secondary schools.[1] Colleges currently cater to adults seeking training, job advancement or second careers, and to students from around the world. Colleges Ontario estimates that publicly-funded colleges in the province educate and train more than 500,000 students each year. [2]  

In the past half century, the economic role of the college in the community has grown significantly. CAATs work closely with local businesses and industry, and provide training and specialized skills for an evolving job market, supporting local growth and contributing to provincial productivity.

College campuses across small and rural communities are at times the sole generators of local know-how and expertise and key employers. CAAT staff has grown to 12,000 full-time faculty and 7,500 full-time support staff, all represented by the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU).  In addition, CAATs employ thousands of part-time staff in both support and academic roles every year.  OPSEU is currently conducting an organizing drive to unionize part-time support staff, and certification votes are being held these weeks in colleges across the province.

In its effort to address the evolving needs of a growing college system, the government of Ontario has set out to update the college funding model by reviewing annual operating grants.

In principle, OPSEU supports the initiative undertaken by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to review and update college funding.  After all, Bill Davis could not have predicted the challenges and opportunities confronting our college system today.

In practice, OPSEU is concerned that a number of key considerations essential to modernizing the college funding model were expressly left out of the scope of the consultation, namely adequacy of funding, collective bargaining and tuition.[3]

Issues that significantly affect Ontario colleges, while not expressly excluded from the consultation paper, are evident by their absence. Any meaningful review of the funding model must deal with current post-secondary realities such as local economic development, precarious work and international ventures.

A matter that the Ministry has prominently included in the college’s funding review is differentiation policy. The government has positioned this policy as “the primary driver drive for the post-secondary education sector moving forward.”[4]  A differentiated system encourages post-secondary institutions to focus on their own strengths and competitive advantages while discouraging expenditures in academic areas where programs exist elsewhere in the province.[5] Differentiation was just introduced as a policy three years ago and the government’s plan to deepen the differentiation agenda merits discussion. We must address whether this policy may inadvertently harm colleges located in small and rural communities and, by extension, the communities themselves.    

The funding model must evolve as the college system has. The government review of college funding presents an opportunity to better resource a growing system, deal with the modern challenges it faces, and recognize the role of the college at the heart of Ontario’s communities.

1. Adequacy of Funding

OPSEU contends that adequate, stable, funding is the cornerstone of the quality-driven, student-centered, public college system the government of Ontario aims to build.[6]

The current level of funding in Ontario’s college system is objectionable.  Our province not only performs poorly when it comes to per-student college funding; it ranks tenth out of ten provinces.. Across Canada, the average operating grant for the 2013-2014 academic year surpassed $10,000 per college student. In Ontario, it didn’t reach $6000.[7] Every other province in the country performed better, and our provincial situation is not improving. In 2014-15, real operating funding per student in Ontario (FTE) was 18 per cent lower than in 2007-08.[8]

As a result of poor and declining government funding, colleges have had to make up the shortfall through other sources of revenue. As of 2013-14, less than half of total revenue (48.9 per cent) came in through government grants. The lion’s share of the rest was collected through regulated and high-demand tuition (20.5 per cent), unfunded and international tuition (10.4 per cent), and other fees (13.5 per cent).[9]

Higher tuition is one of the unfortunate consequences of underfunding. Average cost of tuition for one academic year in an Ontario college program today ranges from $2400 for a diploma program to $6100 for a bachelor’s degree program. That is in addition to $800 in ancillary fees and $1300 for books and supplies, according to an estimate by the government-run website ontariocolleges.ca.[10] Rising tuition fees hardly enhance the overall student experience (one of the stated goals of the government’s funding model transformation). Rising fees have significantly contributed to an average student debt in Ontario that has surpassed the $25,000 mark in 2016, according to the Globe and Mail.[11] In the last year, experts in Canada and the United States have warned that rising student debt has mental health implications for student debtors, as students that take out more loans are more likely to report poor mental health in early adulthood.[12]

Another consequence of government underfunding is the resulting instability of the college funding model. As colleges rely more and more on non-governmental sources of revenue, circumstances outside of provincial control increasingly affect CAATs’ funding.  According to Colleges Ontario, international enrolment is increasing with more than 28,000 international students enrolled in Ontario colleges in 2014-15[13] and 10 per cent of funding revenues deriving from international tuition or unfunded domestic tuition. Global economic fluctuations can easily destabilize college funding and, by extension, program delivery.

The consequences of an underfunded college sector run counter to two of the four stated goals of the college funding review, namely (1) to enhance the quality and improve the overall student experience and (2) to address financial sustainability. Any effort to simply redistribute existing monies does not deal with the key issue: Ontario’s 24 publicly-funded colleges need reliable, stable, adequate funding.

Recommendation 1

OPSEU recommends that per-student funding in Ontario be increased to meet the national average.

2. Differentiation Policy and Ontario Communities

Differentiation policy was introduced in Ontario in 2013 and resulted in 45 Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) signed with Ontario’s colleges and universities. The SMAs sought to focus postsecondary institutions on their competitive strengths and to dissuade them from developing or sustaining academic and training programs already available in other institutions. The Ontario government is determined to deepen its differentiation agenda by positioning the policy as the primary driver for the post-secondary sector in its new funding framework.[14]

While a differentiated system can offer support for unique college programs, there are inherent dangers with tying funding to targeted directions and mandated agreements. The first, as indicated by OISE specialist Grace Karram Stephenson, is the potential impingement on institutional autonomy. Karram Stephenson warns that “changes in funding must allow institutions to determine their trajectory toward their own goals, accounting for this delicate balance between clear objectives and institutional autonomy.”[15]

The second, and most concerning issue to smaller communities, is local access to comprehensive programming. Differentiation policy and attached funding levers discourage duplication of similar programs across colleges in order to maximize competitiveness. When it comes to local community colleges, however, the policy can have a serious negative effect.

In the year 2014-15, approximately 36 per cent of college students arrived from rural, small and medium-sized communities with less than 100,000 inhabitants.[16] If these students are to remain in their communities, a certain level of local access to general and comprehensive programs must be maintained. Otherwise, they will need to travel long distances to cities that offer their program of choice.  These students may never return to their original communities. By displacing students to larger communities, the government will be divesting small and rural communities of qualified graduates.  

Access to local education deeply affects quality of life and economic development in small, medium-sized and rural communities. It must not be compromised in a new funding model.

Recommendation 2

OPSEU recommends that comprehensive and general programs in small, medium-sized, and rural communities be supported and adequately funded.

3. Collective Bargaining

The Ontario government currently plans to increase college budgets by 1.2 per cent in 2016-17, by 0.2 per cent in 2017-18 and by 0 per cent in 2018/19.[17] Not only does this funding increase (or lack thereof) ignore the CAATs’ needs to deliver more and better programs that cater to a diverse sector of the population, but it disregards the needs of college staff to earn wages and benefits that, at the very least, keep up with inflation.[18]

Colleges in Ontario collectively bargain with their employees, including OPSEU’s CAAT-Support and CAAT-Academic units. It is imperative that the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities acknowledge college staff and their needs. The government of Ontario must fund colleges appropriately in order to compensate staff fairly without adverse consequences for other college needs.

Recommendation 3

OPSEU recommends that college funding should be adjusted to recognize staff wage increases and benefits.

4. Precarious College Workers

Almost a year ago, while addressing a conference organized by the United Way and McMaster University, Premier Kathleen Wynne vowed to restore dignity to the province’s most vulnerable workers: “We’ve chosen to reject the notion that the growing numbers of precarious workers are an unfortunate and unavoidable economic reality of the 21s century.” [19]

The Ministry can begin to fulfill the Premier’s promise with its own college part-time academic and support workers. These workers suffer tremendous disadvantages when it comes to wages, benefits and job security. In fact, part-time college workers are not covered by the same Employment Standards Act that protects the majority of Ontario workers.

Through unionization, part-time college workers can bargain for basic protections, fairness and increased benefits.  OPSEU is currently leading an organizing drive in Ontario’s 24 colleges.  Thousands of part-time support workers have signed cards and certification votes are being held in these weeks. By supporting OPSEU’s organizing drive and funding decent wages and benefits packages for part-time workers across the college system, the government can do its part to fight precarious working conditions and change their working reality.

In the short term, it can also stop spending thousands of public dollars fighting efforts to organize by litigating against their own college workers’ unionization efforts.

Recommendation 4

The province must provide Ontario colleges with adequate, secure funding to cover decent wages and adequate benefits for precarious part-time workers.

5. College International Activities

As a result of declining government investment in the sector, Ontario colleges have turned to jurisdictions with questionable human rights records to make up the existing college funding gap. In fact, 11 of the 16 countries where Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology have established education programs or campuses have not ratified the ILO Conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining.[20] Algonquin and Niagara colleges both operate male-only campuses in Saudi Arabia, and Centennial College offers male-only training programs. All three colleges are in violation of the United Nations commitment to providing equal access to education for women and girls.[21] Unfortunately, there are other colleges currently considering starting similar ventures.

Recommendation 5

All international activities carried out by Ontario’s publicly funded colleges must be consistent with Canadian values and fall within International Labour Standards and United Nations recommendations.

The third stated goal of the government’s review is to increase transparency and accountability in the post-secondary sector. There has been a noticeable lack of transparency on the part of the colleges and the (former) Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities as to the scope of the colleges’ international activities and to the costs and revenues involved in these global ventures.

Recommendation 6

All international activities carried out by Ontario colleges must abide by robust and transparent auditing and reporting principles.

Conclusion

In developing a new funding framework for Ontario colleges, the provincial government must take into account the evolving needs and modern challenges of today’s college system.

To be effective, any meaningful funding review must include in its scope adequacy of funding, collective bargaining, and tuition fees. It must also deal with current issues such as precarious workers and international ventures. Furthermore, the shifting of funding from enrolment-based funding to a differentiation agenda must take into account the possible adverse effects on Ontario’s small and rural communities and compensate accordingly.

OPSEU submits that Ontario’s new college funding model should include the following:

  1. Per-student funding must be increased to meet the national average.
  2. Comprehensive and general programs in small, medium-sized, and rural communities must be supported and adequately funded.
  3. Funding should be adjusted to recognize staff wage increases and benefits.
  4. Colleges must be provided with adequate, secure funding to pay decent wages and adequate benefits to part-time workers.
  5. All international activities carried out by Ontario’s publicly funded colleges must be consistent with Canadian values and fall within International Labour Standards and United Nations recommendations.
  6. All international activities carried out by Ontario colleges must abide by robust and transparent auditing and reporting principles.

Endnotes

[1] Colleges Ontario. Student and Graduate Profiles: Environmental Scan 2015. Rep. Toronto. May 2015.

[2] Colleges Ontario. Student and Graduate Profiles: Environmental Scan 2015.  Rep. Toronto. May 2015.

[3] Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. College Funding Model Reform Consultation Paper. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, May 2016.

[4] Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. College Funding Model Reform Consultation Paper. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, May 2016.

[5] Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. College Funding Model Reform Consultation Paper. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, May 2016.

[6] See Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. College Funding Model Reform Consultation Paper. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, May 2016.

[7] Colleges Ontario. College Resources: Environmental Scan 2015. Rep. Toronto: Colleges Ontario, 2015. Web.

[8] Colleges Ontario. College Resources: Environmental Scan 2015. Rep. Toronto: Colleges Ontario, 2015. Web, p. 2.

[9] Colleges Ontario. College Resources: Environmental Scan 2015. Rep. Toronto: Colleges Ontario, 2015. Web.

[10] Paying for College: tuition and financial assistance. http://www.ontariocolleges.ca/colleges/paying-for-college. 2016. Web.

[11] Sagan, Aleksandra.  “The Mental Health Impact of Rising Student Debt: A lot of students suffer silently.” Globe and Mail. May 30, 2016. Web.

[12] Sagan, Aleksandra.  “The Mental Health Impact of Rising Student Debt: A lot of students suffer silently.” Globe and Mail. May 30, 2016. Web.

[13] Colleges Ontario. Student and Graduate Profiles: Environmental Scan 2015.  Toronto. May 2015.

[14] Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. College Funding Model Reform Consultation Paper. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, May 2016.

[15] Karram Stephenson, Grace. “Reworking the funding model to enhance quality.” University World News. June 5, 2015. Web.

[16] Colleges Ontario. Student and Graduate Profiles: Environmental Scan 2015.  Toronto. May 2015.

[17] Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.  “Multi-year Outlook for Operating Grants to Universities and Colleges.” Ministry handout at Budget lock-up. Toronto: March 2016.

[18] Annual levels of inflation in Canada have averaged 1.6% in the past decade.

[19] Mojtehedzadeh, Sara.  “Kathleen Wynne vows action on precarious work.” Toronto Star.  May 22, 2015. Web.

[20] OPSEU.  Leave Speculation to Bay Street. Submission. Toronto: Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 2016. Web.

[21] Ibid.