Rector's report sparks discussion on funding
by Laurie Zack
Rector Frederick Lowy's report at the end of the March 18 Board of Governors meeting sparked a wide-ranging discussion of the ongoing funding crisis.
Lowy reported on the progress of discussions between Ottawa and the provinces over disbursement of the new $3-billion federal Millennial Scholarship Fund. He also mentioned that the University was preparing submissions to the federal Canada Foundation for Innovation project, which was being coordinated through the Quebec Ministry of Education.
Despite the injection of funds by these programs to bolster research and help students gain access to university education, both initiatives underline the continued underfunding of Quebec universities, whose operating budget woes will not be addressed by these types of programs.
Lowy alluded to the tuition fee structure: Quebec full-time students pay roughly $1,700 per year, while students in the other provinces pay roughly $3,600 per year and rising, especially in Ontario.
The low tuition fees in Quebec contribute to a low expenditure rate per student by Quebec. Lowy explained that Quebec universities are spending roughly $7,800 per student this year, while the Canadian average was close to $15,000, and this average for U.S. state universities is above $20,000. Before the massive cuts in funding for Quebec universities over the past five years, Quebec universities were spending close to $12,000 per student.
Lowy ended his presentation by wondering aloud how we can maintain education standards in Quebec and compete on the world stage. He mentioned the example of a recent attempt to hire a new professor for an exciting new program. An Ontario university offered $20,000 more per annum than Concordia.
Outgoing Concordia Student Union president Rebecca Aldworth made an impassioned plea for a united front of students and university officials to protest the government cutbacks. She also reminded governors of the increasing debt-load of Canadian students (the average is $25,000 at the completion of undergraduate studies; in Quebec, it is roughly $11,000) and the right of students to a university education within their means.
Several Board members expressed grave concern over the deteriorating situation, especially on the eve of another year of expected cutbacks. The question was posed: What could Board members and the rectors and principal do?
The Rector reminded Board members that joint appeals to the government by Board chairs from all Quebec universities in the past had yielded few results. There are no easy answers. The funding crisis will only be worsened by the next set of cuts, which will jeopardize the academic standards and competitiveness of the Quebec university system
Several Board members insisted that time be set aside at a future meeting for more discussion of the subject.