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Provincial budget round-up 2019: university highlights

In most provinces, it was the status quo for operating grants, but some budgets had a few surprises.

BY ANQI SHEN | APR 24 2019

For most provincial governments across the country, it was business as usual in terms of their fiscal plans announced over the past few months. The only two provinces that haven’t yet released annual budgets this year are Alberta and Prince Edward Island, both of which were, until recently, in the midst of elections.

Perhaps the most noteworthy budget for universities was in Ontario, with the government announcing that, by 2024-25, it intends to tie 60 percent of funding to universities to performance outcomes via strategic mandate agreements. Currently, only 1.4 percent of funding is tied to such outcomes. The first year of these new agreements, 2020-21, will tie 25 percent of funding to performance outcomes, and that proportion will increase annually by 10 percent for three years and five percent in the last year. There are currently 38 performance metrics for universities, which will be reduced to 10 related to skills and jobs, and other indicators yet to be determined.

British Columbia saw the largest increase to university operating grants across the provinces, at 5.8 percent, followed by Quebec at 3.0 percent, while other provinces announced modest increases or decreases. In Newfoundland and Labrador, a negative 0.7 percent change belies the fact that the $363.5 million going to the province’s sole university is the highest public investment as a percentage of the university’s general operating revenues of any Canadian university system.

The chart below represents changes to operating funds for universities from the previous fiscal year, based on numbers provided by Universities Canada. That is followed by a list of key budget items for the postsecondary sector in each province.

Hover over the graph to see the numbers in more detail.

Note: the Ontario and B.C. budgets do not break down operating grants between universities and colleges. The figure for Ontario is an annual average.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • $363.5 million in operating grants for Memorial University, which includes $54.1 million for the faculty of medicine at the province’s only university.
  • $78.2 million to maintain current tuition levels (freeze on tuition) for Newfoundland and Labrador students, which reflects an additional $4 million for Memorial University and $1.1 million for College of the North Atlantic in 2019.
  • $9.3 million to support Memorial University’s infrastructure modernization needs.
  • $1.5 million for the College of the North Atlantic and Memorial University’s hyperspectral imaging project.

Nova Scotia

  • $3.6 million increase to university operating grants, as the province prepares to enter another multi-year memorandum of understanding.
  • $470,000 to support the work of the Provincial Sexual Violence Prevention Committee working with universities and Nova Scotia Community College to implement recommendations.
  • Under the loan forgiveness program, eligible Nova Scotian students can have a maximum of 5 years worth of debt written off, up to $20,000. Students with permanent disabilities who take reduced course loads can spread that benefit over 10 years.
  • The province is also phasing out the grant portion of student loans for Nova Scotian students choosing to study outside of the province if their program of choice is available in Nova Scotia.

New Brunswick

  • Maintains the one percent increase in operating funds to publicly-funded universities as per the previously signed MOU.
  • No specific announcement for capital funding to universities (although it did include $4 million for colleges). The budget did, however, articulate the need to reign in infrastructure spending and “make hard decisions.”
  • Projected revenues of $19.7 million in tuition fees (a three-percent decrease in estimated revenue from tuition in 2018 budget).
  • Will unveil a renewed bursary program for both publicly funded and private sector universities and colleges.


  • Three-percent increase to operating grants for universities, including $15 million per year for regional universities, $3 million per year to adapt university training to the needs of the labour market, and $38 million over five years to attract AI researchers to universities, and to support doctoral and postdoctoral training.
  • $12.5 million over five years to develop specialized AI courses or training for students at all levels and for workers in this field.
  • $2 million for HEC Montreal’s Centre for Productivity and Prosperity.
  • $2.4 million over three years for Industrial Research Chair on Cellulosic Ethanol and Biocommodities at Université de Sherbrooke.
  • $1.5 million over five years for research chair in permafrost at Université Laval
  • $16 million per year in merit scholarships as incentives to university students to enroll and stay in teaching programs; $5 million per year to develop a mentoring program for future teachers.


  • Funding for the postsecondary education sector (universities and colleges) is projected to decrease from $12.1 billion in 2018–19 to $11.7 billion in 2021–22, representing an average annual decrease of 1.0 per cent.
  • For infrastructure funding, universities will receive: $52 million in 2019-20, $71 million in 2020-21 and $64 million in 2021-22. “Colleges and other” in the postsecondary education and training portfolio are receiving: $299 million in 2019-20, $327 million in 2020-21 and $278 million in 2021-22.
  • Under the Driving Prosperity plan, the government re-announced its 10-year vision for how industry, research and the postsecondary sector can work together to strengthen the auto sector.
  • An expert panel will develop an action plan for intellectual property and maximizing commercialization opportunities. The panel will include representatives from postsecondary education, industry, innovation, venture capital and investment, banking and finance, medical and IP law.
  • Reduced college and university tuition fees by 10 percent starting in 2019-20 academic year for domestic students. Domestic tuition will be frozen for the 2020-21 school year. A fund to be available for smaller Northern institutions to adjust to the tuition reduction.
  • The “Student choice initiative” allows students to opt out of ancillary “non-essential” fees. “Fees that fund major campus‐wide services and facilities, such as existing transit pass agreements, and those that support essential campus health and safety initiatives will continue to be mandatory.”
  • Starting in the 2019-20 school year, the government will ensure 82 percent of student aid grants will go to students with a family income of less than $50,000, up from 76 per cent under the previous government. The government plans to spend $325 million less on student financial assistance each year as a result of changes to OSAP.


  • Decrease of $6 million, or about 0.9 percent, to university operating grants.
  • Manitoba Education and Training is developing a Skills, Knowledge and Talent Strategy to build on Manitoba’s strengths to provide opportunities for the existing workforce as well as develop future talent.
  • Revenue from tuition fees at universities and colleges is projected to increase by 7.4 percent from the previous year. This may be due to tuition fee increases or increased enrolment.
  • $4 million for postsecondary institutions in the non-budgetary capital program – not broken down by universities and colleges.
  • Manitoba Student Aid program to receive $45.7 million from the non-budgetary capital program.


  • $672.8 million in operating and capital grants to postsecondary institutions.
  • $22.4M for maintenance capital and renewal of ongoing and proactive upgrade of postsecondary campus infrastructure.
  • Increased funding for the student loan program of $4.7 million, to a total of $26.3 million, which will provide repayable and non-repayable financial assistance to more than 18,000 students.

British Columbia

  • Increase for postsecondary education operating funds: 5.8 percent in 2019, 0.5 percent in 2020 and 0.3 percent in 2021, as part of the Economic Stability Mandate.
  • Increase to postsecondary education capital funding of $121 million over three years, from 2019 to 2021. This builds on previously announced $783 million to maintain, replace, renovate or expand facilities.
  • $89 million in grants to health and life sciences research organizations to attract and retain health researchers and support entrepreneurship and commercialization.
  • Continued two-percent increase limit for domestic students’ tuition fees mandated by the provincial government.
  • Elimination of provincial interest on student loans ($318 million over four years starting in 2018-19).
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