At the cusp of real reform
Bob Rae outlines the case for why education matters and a vision for making Ontario a leader in learning.
Former Ontario premier Bob Rae delivered to Queen’s Park Monday what is perhaps the most important document in a generation on the state of postsecondary education in our province. Mr. Rae’s message is one I endorse and hope will capture the attention of Ontarians as the McGuinty government contemplates its spring budget priorities.
In his panel’s postsecondary review report, “Ontario: A Leader in Learning,” Mr. Rae says now is the time to renew Ontario’s commitment to higher education by funding it in accordance with the increasingly important contributions it makes to our knowledge economy.
“Society’s survival has always relied on the transfer of skills and abilities across generations,” says Mr. Rae, who released his report after gathering some 2,300 submissions during eight months of consultation. “What is new is the level and breadth of knowledge and skill required to succeed. Our current standard of living, and our quality of life, depends on access to the best education in the world.”
I am encouraged by the case the report puts forward, and I am pleased to see how it addresses key issues highlighted in Western’s submission to the Rae panel (pdf), made jointly last October by our faculty, students, staff and administration.
Among its 28 recommendations, Mr. Rae’s report calls for a total base funding increase of $1.3 billion over the next three years to ensure no student position within the postsecondary system goes unfunded, and to invest in quality improvements to Ontario’s postsecondary institutions. These two issues are of primary importance to Ontario universities, and Mr. Rae is unequivocal in his recommendation that more money is needed now. The need is self-evident as currently some 25,000 student positions in Ontario receive no government funding, and Ontario universities rank last among the Canadian provinces when it comes to funding on a per-student basis.
The report also calls for bold and sweeping changes to Ontario’s student aid system. Mr. Rae recommends $300 million is required to provide up-front grants for more than 95,000 low-income students, greater access to loans that reflect the real cost of study, and more help with loan repayment. I am delighted to see the report also calls for the Ontario Student Opportunity Trust Fund to continue on a permanent basis, providing matching funds in the amount of $50 million a year starting in 2005-06 for gifts made in support of student assistance.
Other key recommendations include expanding graduate student enrolment to approximately 60,000 over the next 10 years, and making available $200 million per year for facility renewal, and up to $300 million per year for new facilities and equipment to meet the growing demands of increased enrolment. Not only does this acknowledge our growing deferred maintenance challenges, but it also reflects an appreciation that excellence in teaching and research requires state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. The report also states that Ontario needs to be clearer about its future support for research and innovation. While acknowledging the need to encourage commercialization of research, Mr. Rae emphasizes that basic research remains fundamental to the mission of higher education. “If universities don’t pursue it,” he adds, “it is hard to know who will.”
Mr. Rae sets the context for his report by arguing very convincingly that quality and high standards are not incompatible with the desire to make education more accessible and affordable. “Opportunity and excellence are both diminished,” he writes, “when governments and students spend less than they should, or when institutions are reluctant to focus and insist on better outcomes. Ontario has a chance now to muster the political will to create a sustainable framework for a system that allows each student, and each university and college, to be at their best… we should not settle for anything less.”
What is even more encouraging is that Mr. Rae sees the goals of this report as only first steps. “The ‘stretch targets’ over the long term,” he writes, “should be to bring the per-student revenue base up to the level of public institutions in peer North American jurisdictions. This would require approximately $2.2 billion more in revenues to the institutions than they receive today.”
In this regard, Mr. Rae calls upon the federal government to play a more significant role in postsecondary education: “Financial support through the Canada Social Transfer for postsecondary education needs to be restored and increased in the future to keep up with inflation and enrolment increases, and better support the federal agenda for building a knowledge society.”
I concur with Mr. Rae that Ontarians should not settle for anything less when it comes to postsecondary education. Our challenge now is fostering public support to ensure the government acts upon Mr. Rae’s recommendations. To this end, I encourage all members of our campus community to seize this opportunity to express support for renewed investment in postsecondary education by talking to friends and colleagues, and communicating your views to your local MPP.
Paul Davenport, President and Vice-Chancellor
The University of Western Ontario
To share your views please reply to Paul.Davenport@uwo.ca
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March 31, 2005
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