by Sylvain Comeau
Is private money the solution for universities? That was the main topic
in a panel discussion Oct. 30 on the money squeeze facing our institutions
of higher learning.
Yves Engler, VP communications of the Concordia Student Union and a political
science student, decried the creeping corporatization and privatization
of universities. He said that only 10 to 20 per cent of university research
is of any interest to corporations, so university research is increasingly
driven by corporate self-interest.
No Canadian should ever be turned away from university because of
cost, he said. Here in Quebec, we have a freeze on tuition,
but we have [administrative and student] fees of $900 a year that increase
much faster than inflation. However, Concordia Provost Jack Lightstone
remarked that half of that amount comprises fees that students have imposed
on themselves through the ballot-box.
Lightstone, who is involved in negotiating government funding, discussed
how universities got into their financial bind, and why private funding
is a necessary boost.
In an attempt to balance their budgets, governments have severely
cut funding across Canada and Quebec in the 90s. Quebec universities lost
about 37 per cent of their budgets over nine years.
Such draconian cuts would have been a burden at any time in history, but
Lightstone contends that the timing was particularly bad because of increased
demands on universities.
The world in which we live is changing, and the necessity of having
a university education is much greater now than at any time in the past.
If Canada is going to succeed, we are at a crossroads as to whether
or not our universities will be able to play their crucial role. It is
clear that with the current funding situation, no university has the funds
to do so.
Despite ominous rumblings from critics who contend that private funding
is exerting undue influence, Lightstone said that public funding will
remain the key. The funding that we desperately need and
seek from private and corporate donors does pay for a number of
things. But we cant and dont rely on it for the core funding
of our operating budget.
Maria Peluso, president of the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty
Union, argued that private funding is highly selective and boosts certain
kinds of faculties and research at the expense of others.
Those universities with medical research and law faculties have
been receiving the largest amount of private research grants, so that
there is a shift toward research targeted to the needs of the market,
and to those providing the money. What we have in Canada is the development
of a two-tier system among universities.
She said that universities could have done more to fight the cuts. Lightstone
responded that universities did fight, but were largely ignored by governments.
We were out in the streets, but governments look at the polls, and
the polls show that the public is more concerned about the health care
system falling apart than about low funding to education.
The panel was part of the Montreal Matters project, a series of events
throughout the month of October which focused on the topic of money. It
was presented by the CBC, Concordia and Hour magazine. Excerpts
of the discussion were broadcast on Canada Now (local) and 88.5 CBC Radio