Statistics Canada ruffles feathers

By Mary Chan

Despite showing an increase in university revenue, student leaders are displeased with a recent Statistics Canada report on university finances.

The report, released on July 30, found that Canadian universities collected a total of $14.9 billion during the 1999/2000 academic year, up 15.7 per cent from 1998/1999. The increased revenue stemmed from increases in government funding (up 23.8 per cent from the previous year), student fees, including tuition (up 9.8 per cent) and sales of services and products (up 25.6 per cent).

However, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, a national student lobby group, was unimpressed by the numbers.

“The reason we’re not impressed is because they wrote a report that is misleading to the public,” said CASA National Director Liam Arbuckle. “It makes them think that the government is putting more real dollars into the system.”

Arbuckle pointed out that without the 1999/2000 enrolment figures, which the Statistics Canada report lacks, it is impossible to see if per student funding actually increased.

“They aren’t taking into account if per student funding is up or down,” said Arbuckle, who believes StatsCan should have delayed the report until enrolment numbers were available. “[Per student statistics] puts more of a context to see if the government really is returning more money into universities after the severe cuts.”

University of Calgary Students’ Union Vice-president External and Council of Alberta University Students Chair Oliver Bladek is unhappy that even though the report shows government funding restored to the levels they were at before major cutbacks in the mid-’90s, student fees constantly increased during this period.

“Student fees have continually been on the rise and the government hasn’t kicked in their fair share, either federally through the Canadian Health and Social Transfer, or provincially with base operating grant funding,” he said.

Bladek also pointed out that the increased 15.7 per cent in government grants and contracts does not all reach students, since the contract money is allocated towards research chairs and cannot be used towards a university’s general base operating fund.

“That money isn’t making its way into the classroom, and students aren’t seeing the benefits of that increased money,” he said. “Since tuition here in Alberta has almost tripled since 1990, it’s safe to say that the quality of education has not tripled as well, if you try to link quality to fees.”