Value for Money at Ontario’s Universities
May 2, 2012
Steve Paikin of TVO’s The Agenda is a consummate professional, and it was a pleasure to join Mr. Paikin and three very smart individuals on air for a debate last week about value-for-money in higher education. Ever optimistic, I took along these two figures in hopes they could be projected on camera. Alas, time and technical issues precluded doing so. I reproduce them here.
The first shows the per-student funding for universities and colleges. These are StatsCan data, compiled by CAUT in its useful annual almanac.
In part, these data tell a story about the new and intriguing shape of the Canadian federation. Two provinces are rich in non-renewable resources that are sought by the whole world, and they are funding their universities at a much higher level. Other provinces are lagging and Ontario is dead last.
These provincial funding levels help explain why tuition fees are higher in Ontario. Without increases in tuition-based revenues, there would be sharp budget cuts and a diminution in educational quality. However, the corollary is that we have to be vigilant about sustaining accessibility through student aid – a topic to which I’ll turn in the next couple of days.
I was surprised that the funding for Nova Scotia has risen as shown in this figure. That statistic does lead me to be a little wary of the data here. For some time Nova Scotia lagged in per-student funding and also had correspondingly high tuitions. We’ll look further at these numbers in the months ahead. For now, I would note only that, at times, there are challenges sorting out the PSE data from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick because the relatively higher proportions of out-of-province students in those jurisdictions can distort the overall picture.
The second figure adds graduation rates into the mix. (The Maritime provinces have been omitted in this figure for the reason noted above.)
The expression “graduation rate” might be confusing here. It is more commonly used in reference to the proportion of university students who eventually graduate from university. Here, “graduation rate” is used per the OECD (and StatsCan) terminology: i.e. the proportion of baccalaureate-level university graduates in a typical university-age population. As such, it is a population-based measure of the uptake of university education.
This second figure shows a striking pattern. The provinces with the most generous per-student funding have the lowest levels of university education. And I would add, at risk of fuelling fires, that Quebec, with more generous per-student government funding but lower posted tuitions, has lower numbers of university graduates than Ontario. It is hard to escape the conclusion that universities in Ontario are doing a lot more with a lot less.
With these observations and caveats (there are others too numerous and picayune to list in a brief post), I think these two figures are illuminating.