Picture of Queen's Park
COU Statement: Response to Ontario Spring 2021 Budget
March 24, 2021

TORONTO, March 24, 2021 – “With a shared goal to protect the health of Ontarians and the health of our economy, Ontario’s universities support the provincial government’s continued commitment to supporting the people of Ontario while positioning the province for a strong recovery.

Our universities recognize the important investments the government has made in health care, the economy, infrastructure, skills training and more. These investments will contribute to the health and well-being of the people of Ontario, our businesses, communities and industries, while encouraging innovation and growth for a resilient future.

We also welcome provincial support for the postsecondary sector as outlined in today’s 2021 Ontario Budget: Ontario’s Action Plan Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy. We share the government’s commitment to ensuring traditional and non-traditional learners can gain access to flexible postsecondary programs that support life-long learning. Government investments in micro-credentials, virtual learning and the new Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit will help students develop the adaptable skills that will help future-proof the workforce of tomorrow.

Ontario’s universities thank the government for their long-term commitment to support Ontario research and infrastructure. Investing in modern labs and equipment will help ensure students are trained and graduate from institutions that reflect the changing needs of the workforce, while providing local businesses and SMEs with access to leading edge facilities to test ideas and scale operations. Advancing research and commercialization will help push the boundaries of knowledge, support economic growth and improve quality of life for all Ontarians.

Targeted relief provided to universities hardest hit by COVID-19 will also help our institutions in their mission to support the needs of our students, local communities and bolster economic growth.

As autonomous institutions, the role of Ontario’s universities remains critical as our province continues to fight COVID-19 and looks to a strong recovery. A vibrant, financially sustainable university system is – and will continue to be – vital to building an adaptable workforce and sparking the innovation the province needs to help drive economic growth and strengthen our regions.

With a continued commitment to supporting our students, communities and province, Ontario’s universities continue to experience broad and increasingly complex financial pressures.

To date, universities have incurred more than $500 million in combined net costs and lost revenue due to COVID-19. These financial challenges have been further compounded by reduced revenue to the sector with operating grants per student that are lower today than in 2002-03, in addition to the ongoing tuition freeze and a 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition in 2019.

Recognizing the financial pressures on families and students, universities remain committed to supporting students who have faced significant challenges due to COVID-19. To help ensure every willing and qualified student can access a high-quality postsecondary education, our institutions provide $1 billion in scholarships and bursaries for students facing the greatest financial need.

Ontario’s universities will continue to play a critical role in ensuring the province has the adaptable talent and ground-breaking innovation it needs to drive economic development in Ontario’s recovery. Our researchers, faculty, staff and students are helping businesses adapt, developing PPE, conducting ground-breaking research and supporting vaccine development and rollout.

As families, workers and businesses across the province continue to face the challenges of the pandemic, Ontario’s universities stand ready to support our province now, and in the next chapter in the fight against COVID-19. In our Five-Point Plan to Support Ontario’s Recovery, we outline how government and universities can partner to tackle the priorities that are critical to Ontario’s economic growth.

To help build a brighter future for our province, Ontario’s universities will continue to work with government to discuss long-term sustainability through revenue flexibility to ensure every university has the support it needs to best serve the almost half a million students studying at our institutions, as well as to help communities rebuild, foster innovation and drive economic growth; creating a more prosperous future for our students, communities and the province.”

– Steve Orsini, President and CEO, Council of Ontario Universities

Key Facts and Data

  • Ontario’s universities receive the lowest per-student government funding in Canada, which is approximately 41% below the average for the rest of Canada. Only one third of operating revenue comes from government operating grants.

    Sources: Based on CAUBO financial statements (includes all provincial general operating funding) and Statistics Canada enrolment data.
  • University operating grants per student have declined in real terms by 12.6% since 2002-03.
  • Through scholarships, grants and bursaries, Ontario universities invest more than $1 billion per year to enhance access to a higher education.
  • Universities continue to face growing financial pressures, such as increasing much-needed supports in student mental health, new online technologies and deferred maintenance costs. For example, the gap between government funding for maintenance and repair and the projected costs is estimated to exceed $10 billion over the next 10 years alone.
  • Ontario’s universities contribute nearly $116 billion to the province’s economy each year, employ more than 110,000 people and spend more than $5 billion in local goods and services per year.