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Quebec universities are underfunded by $375 million compared to other provinces according to a recent study by the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ), in cooperation with the Quebec education ministry.
The comparative study showed that Quebec universities receive $114 million less in endowments and $261 million in general funding.
According to CREPUQ figures, the funding gap, though down from its 1998-9 high of $433 million, is still well above the shortfall of 1995-6, which was "only" $100 million.
In all, CREPUQ said that the provincial universities' funding should stand at about $2.25 billion.
"We're falling behind on the level of per-student support, and I'd say that's where the most impact is seen. We're at the lowest level in North America — hand in hand with Ontario. We're poorer because we're very constrained on other channels for revenue generation," said Principal Heather Munroe-Blum.
After the Quebec Youth Summit of 2000, the provincial government made a commitment to add $300 million over three years to university budgets. At the time, this was called Phase I reinvestment. CREPUQ pointed out that there remains considerable catching up to do and that Phase II reinvestment is "imperative."
The situation is even more grim for McGill. During Phase I the university was underfunded by roughly $15 million annually for the three years. The university's portion of the requested Phase II would be about $50 million annually. To make up for the previous shortfall, the university is seeking a one-time payment of $41 million, which would go towards maintenance, and an additional $13 million annually.
The structural underfunding over the years has hurt almost every area of the university. Measured on a per-student basis, Quebec's funding is the lowest in North America. Libraries, student services, class sizes and faculty recruitment have all suffered over the years.
More than just catching up, Munroe-Blum believes that Quebec deserves a university system that is competitive with the best in the world. She points out that the hunt for talent is intense and international. To provide the kind of post-secondary system that can keep up in that environment, more money is needed, but even more important is stability.
"It is impossible to do everything we can to serve Quebec in terms of recruiting and retaining outstanding faculty and supporting them in productive research and scholarship and providing effective, quality education to talented students if our base of funding is unpredictable. We need not only a competitive level of support, but a predictable multi-year framework in which there will be no surprises," she said. Ideally, she said, new funding frameworks would be long term and would be tied to the inflation rate.
Although Premier Bernard Landry, in an interview with The Montreal Gazette said that the government has already committed substantial resources to universities and that "we will invest according to our means," Munroe-Blum is optimistic about getting the province on side. Although she recognizes health care is the hot public policy issue at the moment, the economic and social contributions to Quebec are well understood.
"There's been very meaningful engagement on the part of Education Minister Sylvain Simard. I think there is a sense that this has to be a priority."