Provincial Budget Update

Dear members,

On April 15, the APUO held its Annual General Meeting and presented its 2018-2019 Annual Report. For those of you who were unable to join us, you can find the full report here

Worldviews conference

OCUFA, along with other post-secondary education sector partners is hosting a Worldviews on Media and Higher Education 2019 Conference from June 12-14, 2019 at the University of Toronto. “The three-day conference will focus on democracy and the changing power relations of higher education and the media in the global north and south – specifically examining the concept of expertise in a “post-truth” world and the types of voices amplified by emerging technologies.” For more information please consult the following link

Provincial Budget

Post-secondary education sector funding

On April 11, the Ford government tabled its first budget. The budget included several significant changes that will affect the post-secondary education sector as a whole, and bargaining units on campuses across the province.

The most drastic change is the move to tie 60 percent of institutional funding to ten still vaguely defined performance metrics by the year 2024-25. The change in funding allocation will roll out in 2020-21, tying 25 percent of overall funding to performance, increasing by 10 percent annually for the following three years, and then by 5 percent to reach the 60 percent target for the 2024-25 academic year. 

While the specifics regarding the application of this new funding policy remain unknown, the government announced the following ten performance metrics:

  • Graduate earnings
  • Experiential learning
  • Skills and competencies
  • Graduation rate
  • Graduate employment
  • One related to a particular institutional strength or focus
  • Funding from industry
  • Funding for research
  • Two institution-specific measures:
    • one for economic impact;
    • and another for community impact 

Tying core funding to performance metrics overlooks the unique realities faced by each post-secondary institution in the province. In the case of the University of Ottawa, it does not consider the bilingual nature of our institution, its mandate to serve the Franco Ontarian community, or the fact that our French programs often compete with similar programs offered in Quebec for a third of the cost. Along with pitting colleges and universities against one another, the new funding formula could jeopardize the survival of specific programs, and favour certain disciplines and types of research over others.

While the government is framing performance funding as a “transparency and accountability measure” for the sector, the APUO is concerned that this new policy may become a pretext for future public funding clawbacks. Indeed, our funding is now tied to the political whims of the government of the day, and their own perspective on our University’s performance.

In light of this new and deeply concerning reality, we urge the Central Administration to use every tool at its disposal to avoid austerity budgets, should funding cuts arise in the coming years. One of these tools could be to tap into the $429,46 millions of cumulated surpluses over the last decade, or to adopt deficit budgets. Furthermore, we urge the Central Administration to engage in a meaningful consultation with campus labour and student unions about our members’ needs before renegotiating our funding agreement with the province next winter.

Aged-Based Discrimination

The APUO is very disappointed to note that the budget did not include a strategy for renewal, that is, a strategy to hire more full-time, tenure-stream professors and librarians. Rather than delivering a plan on renewal and tackling the rise of precarious labour on campuses across the province, the government has launched a distraction campaign targeting faculty, librarians and other college and university personnel over the age of 65. 

The Ford government is making the claim that the higher average retirement age is holding back the hiring of junior faculty, librarians, and personnel. Its response is in Bill 100 (the Budget bill). Section 18 (1) of Schedule 39 gives the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities the power to “make regulations governing the reduction, limitation and alteration of compensation due to an individual” who “has started to receive a pension under a pension plan” while being “employed or otherwise engaged by a post-secondary institution.” Moreover, Section 18 (2) states that a regulation may “(a) establish and govern procedures, rules and methods that a post-secondary institution shall use to reduce, including reducing to zero, limit or alter the amount, form or timing of compensation due to an individual referred to in subsection (1).”

The APUO views these measures as rooted in age-based discrimination and as an attack on gains made through collective bargaining. Persons over the age of 65 are valuable members of our academic community and deserve to be compensated for their work and service to the University community, even if they are collecting the pension for which they have invested a portion of their salary for the duration of their career. The APUO is working closely with the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) on this issue and will keep you informed. 

Right to collective bargaining and public sector compensation

The Treasury Board is currently engaging in a consultation with public sector employers and bargaining agents about achieving “reasonable public sector compensation growth.” This consultation is raising red flags for the APUO and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA). We fear that the government may attempt to introduce centrally mandated bargaining for the public sector, including colleges and universities. This could imply that moving forward, collective agreements could only be negotiated within a framework established by the provincial government. As OCUFA notes in its budget analysis“any attempt by the Ford government to interfere in university collective agreements and bargaining practices would violate university autonomy and the constitutionally protected rights of faculty and staff.”

Research

The budget also included the creation of an “expert panel,” which could be comprised of representatives from the “post-secondary, industry, innovation, venture capital and investment, banking and finance sectors, as well as from medical research and intellectual property legal expertise” to maximize “commercialization opportunities specifically in the post-secondary education sector.” This is a direct step towards the further privatization of academic research and it could have severe impacts on “less lucrative” but nonetheless invaluable research. 

In conclusion, the Ford government’s first budget, coupled with the government’s announcement in January, can only exacerbate the pressures felt by a sector that has been chronically under resourced for the last two decades. Political mobilization is essential to resist such pressures. The APUO and its partners are evaluating their options.