I am delighted to be back on campus after some 20 years, and deeply honoured to be serving our wonderful university as interim president. I am very appreciative of the warm and enthusiastic support that I have received from all quarters in the exciting first months in office. My new duties have brought into sharp focus the great strengths of our university, as well as the many issues confronting us now and in the coming years.
My most significant and immediate challenge is to ensure a successful outcome for the Postsecondary Review of higher education in Ontario being led by U of T alumnus and former premier Bob Rae. Higher education in Ontario is, as Rae states, “on the edge of the choice between steady decline and great improvement.” The decisions made in the next several months will affect universities and colleges in the province of Ontario for years to come. Rae’s report, expected in January 2005, will address issues of accessibility, quality, system design, funding and accountability, and will assist the government in developing a sustainable long-term plan for financing postsecondary education in Ontario.
The title of the University of Toronto submission to the Rae review is The Choice for a Generation. This title reflects our strong view that the present course of provincial policy regarding postsecondary education shortchanges an entire new generation, and jeopardizes the future that depends on its leadership. With increasing university participation rates have come some dramatic changes in the makeup of the student population. Compared to those of a generation ago, today’s university students include proportionately many more women, and students from new Canadian families. Indeed, this is the most dramatic change I have seen in my return to the university. And while aboriginal people and students from lower-income families remain under-represented in the university student population, participation rates in these groups are increasing faster than the average. These new students deserve the fullest opportunity to participate in society and to succeed.
To meet the needs of this new generation, and of society as a whole, Ontario requires public universities that are among the best in the world. We should be able to offer students a range of programs at undergraduate, professional and graduate levels that rank with the best of their type internationally – including opportunities that only a major teaching and research university can offer. To create that range of options, universities need a strong base of public funding, as well as the flexibility and latitude to work with and build upon that base. To access that range of options, students need to see clear pathways through the system and to be assured of the resources they need to pursue their chosen course.
Where are we now with respect to this goal? Readers of this magazine may be surprised to be reading of a crisis in postsecondary education in Ontario. After all, as a university we have celebrated many successes in recent years – in the accomplishments of our faculty, the success of our graduates and our expansion to accommodate the surge resulting from the recent “double cohort” of high school graduates in Ontario. New construction for research facilities and for teaching facilities related to enrolment expansion has produced a buzz of activity on each of our campuses. And the generosity of our donors has made it possible for us to complete a record-breaking billion-dollar campaign a year ahead of schedule.
Yet beneath all these successes, the operating base that sustains us has been steadily eroding, and has not kept pace with growing enrolments. Public funding per student for postsecondary education in Ontario is the lowest of any province in Canada. U of T’s operating grant per student in 2003-04, adjusted for inflation, was about two-thirds of what it was in 1992-93. Our endowment has been very important in ensuring accessibility (about one-half of the endowment is dedicated to financial support for students) and in enhancing our programs. But on a per-student basis it amounts to about one-quarter of that of the University of Michigan, for example, and it contributes less than five per cent to our operating budget. And while our new facilities have created important new landmarks on each of our campuses, we have struggled to maintain our historic buildings (73 of the 176 buildings on our St. George campus are historically designated). We need more than $300 million just to clear the backlog of deferred maintenance.
Ontario’s lag behind peer jurisdictions in graduate education is particularly startling. Per capita, compared to peer American states, Ontario has less than half the master’s degree holders and only about three-quarters the number of PhD holders. If we are to participate fully in the global environment, not only should this gap be closed, but Ontario’s research-intensive universities should also be international destinations for graduate work at the highest level. The need for graduate research and education is so vital that U of T has stretched its resources to admit graduate students well beyond the capped levels currently supported by the province.
As our submission states, “A sense of upward momentum simply cannot be sustained as long as the underlying trajectory is downward. We are now at the tipping point.”
Our message is clear: We need a new compact among the government, universities and citizens of Ontario for postsecondary education – a compact that is student-centred and institution-based. Students need access to postsecondary education in Ontario at international standards of high quality. Our society needs the broader contributions to the public good – to economic prosperity, cultural wealth and community vitality – that only thriving universities can make. Universities can meet these needs, with the necessary support and scope for realizing their distinctive missions. Our submission highlights eight elements of a new compact. Briefly stated, they are:
• Public funding at least at the level of the average for the other Canadian provinces as a necessary first step toward the level of resources necessary to provide access to education at an international standard of high quality.
• A greatly reformed and enhanced framework of student financial assistance.
• Stable multi-year funding and accountability agreements between universities and the provincial government, based on mutually agreed-upon measures of accessibility, student success, research performance, unique resources, etc.
• Institutional self-regulation of tuition fees within a framework that holds institutions accountable for ensuring accessibility.
• Leverage and flexibility for universities beyond the base of the public operating grant – for example, through provincial matching programs for federal support, and incentives to encourage donor support for financial aid and other important priorities.
• Research support that builds upon the momentum established by federal and provincial programs in recent years.
• The public funding necessary to expand graduate education, concentrated in well-recognized centres of research excellence.
• A revised college-university credit transfer mechanism, to be developed by a working group of university and college representatives, to provide clearer opportunities for students.
A compact implies mutual responsibilities, and the University of Toronto is prepared – indeed eager – to do its part. We believe that this university has a leadership role to play in this regard. With our mission rooted in our historical designation as “the provincial university,” our current stature and potential among the leading research and teaching universities of the world, and our position as a key portal of access to education at a major university in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan population centres, we are both the flagship and the bellwether of Ontario and indeed the country.
We have led in the development of a guarantee of student aid such that no student offered admission to U of T is unable to enter or to complete his or her program for lack of financial means, and in the development of a framework of annual reporting to our governing council and to the public on key measures of our performance. We look forward to working with the Honourable Bob Rae and his advisors, our colleagues in the Ontario postsecondary system, the government of Ontario and our other partners throughout the public and private sectors to seize this moment for the benefit of our current and future students and for the people of Ontario and Canada.
I urge you to lend your own voice to advocacy in this important cause, in the period leading up to Bob Rae’s final report in January and afterward as the Ontario government prepares its response through the 2005 provincial budget. Also, please consider contacting your MPP or writing a letter to your local newspaper expressing your support for postsecondary education and for the University of Toronto.
It is a privilege for me to be leading the university at this most important time. I have great hopes for, and great confidence in its future. Please join me in working toward that future, for the good of generations to come.