Ontario government needs to meet its funding commitment to universities

The recent college strike has sparked abundant discussion about the role of teachers. But we are ignoring a much larger problem which encompasses that entire debate. Currently, Ontario ranks 10th in per-student post-secondary funding nationwide. The provincial funding for post-secondary students is well below where it should be, and this leaves Ontario students with the highest tuition fees in the country, when the average Canadian student faces a debt burden of $27,000 at graduation.

It’s hard to say what it will take for Ontario to increase its funding, but the current disparity is clearest in poor mental health services province wide, and reminds us that we have to fight for those crucial services that promote healthy students who are able and confident to tackle the road ahead.

Deb Matthews, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, has lamented that a recurring theme in discussions with students, faculty, and administrators has been mental health issues among students. The Fulcrum recently examined the U of O’s glacially slow progress in this area, despite consistent concerns from students. Of course, in this regard, the university is dependent upon increased funding from the province. Thankfully, there is some good news for once, as provincial funding for mental health services has increased from nine to 15 million yearly.

But that extra six million is for the entire province, and will be distributed across all 45 of Ontario’s colleges and universities. There are more than 800,000 full time post-secondary students across Ontario. So the math works out to a little less than 20 dollars per student. Now that six million seems like a lot less. If money talks, then individual mental health is worth about as much as two Big Mac meals to the provincial government.

Inadequate mental health funding at the U of O can help explain why it was recently ranked lowest in student satisfaction. Such a statistic ought to be embarrassing for a university that purports to represent the nation’s capital.

It’s unfortunately true that there isn’t one simple solution to mental health issues. Services have to provided, but if the environment itself perpetuates emotional anguish then such services can seem more like bandaids over the crack in a dam. But that’s not a justification to ignore the problem and dedicate minimal funding towards it. If the U of O wants to increase its satisfaction levels, it should start with student wellbeing.

It would take an additional $750 million to $1 billion to merely get Ontario to the average level of provincial post-secondary funding. When one considers this deficit, the true meekness of the already meager additional six million is revealed.

Seeing Ontario actually get the additional billion dollars it ought to seems a bit utopian at the moment, especially when an additional $6 million is celebrated as a triumphant accomplishment for mental health. Public awareness that Ontario students are dramatically underfunded would certainly add more pressure in terms of actually achieving equilibrium. But we need to start somewhere, and a good place for everybody is mental health. Let’s get services for those who need them before it’s too late.