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Margin Notes

University finances: Canada versus the U.S.

Canada’s universities are feeling the financial pinch, but it’s nothing compared to the truly dire situation in the United States.


With Ontario’s budget delivered yesterday, half of the provinces have now weighed in on their fiscal fortunes for 2010 (a sixth province, Newfoundland and Labrador, tables its budget on Monday, March 29; Quebec’s budget is the next day, March 30).

Taken together, the news for postsecondary education is not glowing, but it is far from dire – especially compared to the situation in many U.S. states (more on that below).

Most of Canada’s universities are feeling the financial pinch, to be sure, in many cases implementing hiring freezes, cutting programs, etc. But, so far, in no province has operational funding to universities actually been cut.

Here’s a quick budget summary to date, province by province:

Alberta (delivered Feb. 9):

In its 2010 budget, the Alberta government is freezing the operating grants for postsecondary institutions, part of a six percent overall cut to the province’s advanced education ministry. The budget cut grants, scholarships and bursaries by $54 million, replacing the money with loans.

B.C. (March 2):

As in Alberta, the 2010 B.C. budget freezes government funding for postsecondary institutions but, in this case, for a full three years. Additional funding to student financial assistance programs are also frozen.

Saskatchewan (Mar. 24):

According to its 2010-11 budget, the Saskatchewan government will provide $556 million in operating funds to the province’s postsecondary institutions, an overall increase of five percent over last year. An additional $16.3 million in core funding will be provided to universities. Average tuition increases will be limited to five percent.

Manitoba (Mar. 23):

The 2010 Manitoba Budget will provide postsecondary institutions with a 4.5 percent operating grant increase. University fees also will be permitted to increase by a further five percent.

Ontario (Mar. 25)

In the 2010 Ontario budget, the government will spend $310 million to create 20,000 new university and college spaces. This is in addition, the government says, to the $155 million it provided in 2009-10 to support enrolment growth at colleges and universities.

And in the U.S. …

Now compare this to the situation in the U.S. According to the report, Higher Education Budgets and the Global Recession, published this February by the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education, 34 states have been forced to make drastic cuts to spending on their colleges and universities since 2008. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities goes even further, claiming 39 states have cut spending on higher education during that same period.

A report in the Chronicle of Higher Education cites the example of Nevada: last month state lawmakers approved a 6.9-percent midyear cut for higher education, a reduction that came on top of a 24-percent cut in state funds the system had already been dealt in last year’s budget session. Six other states (Alabama, Massachusetts, South Dakota, New Mexico and South Carolina) have seen spending on higher education cut by at least 15 percent over the past two years.

And then there’s the once-great University of California system. The Higher Education Budgets report says that, since 2008-09, the 10-campus state system has seen:

  • a cut of $813 million in the state-funded operating budget, or approximately 20 percent over UC’s 2008-09 budget;
  • a cut of 2,400 freshmen positions;
  • salary cuts for academic and administrative staff of 4 to 10 percent;
  • layoffs of 1,900 employees;
  • the elimination of 3,800 faculty positions;
  • student fee increases of approximately 32 percent since 2008.

Still considered by many to have the best university system in the world, the U.S. could be feeling the effects of these cuts for a generation.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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  1. wondering / March 30, 2010 at 12:17

    Yes, but are we comparing apples to oranges?
    What is the budget $$ of those universities in the States compared to those in Canada?
    What is the $ per student spent?
    What is the research budget per faculty member?
    What is the teaching load of faculty?
    etc. etc.

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