President responds after controversial public funding remarks

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President and vice-chancellor Feridun Hamdullahpur made potentially controversial comments regarding university funding at the March meeting of the university senate. According to the minutes of the meeting, senators were discussing the implications of the percentage of public funding for the university dropping and whether this may convert UW to a private institution. Hamdullahpur responded &ldquo;that so long as our core mission and our core values are preserved, then to a great extent it does not matter where the funding comes from.&rdquo;</p>

Stephane Hamade, Feds vice-president education, who was at the senate meeting, commented that “For us it is clear that we think that the government is an important part of the university funding and that privatizing the university is a significant concern for accessibility.”

May Nazar, team lead, issues management and media relation for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities also provided a response to Hamdullahpur’s initial comments: “Post-secondary education is an important investment for Ontario families and students as well as for the government. These investments are helping build the future of our province. We have created a truly world-class system that offers students the opportunity to pursue their passions and learn the skills they need to compete in the global economy.”

The operating budget approved by the board of governors for 2015-16 has 35 per cent of the income coming from government grants, 56 per cent coming from tuition and nine per cent coming from other sources, including the co-op fee and student services fee. There is no consensus on what percentage of tuition versus government funds would make an Ontario university a private university.

In a statement, Hamdullahpur looked to reaffirm his commitment to the public university system. “The University of Waterloo is proud to be a part of the publicly funded university system, and has no intention of becoming a private institution,” said Hamdullaphur.

Hamade was concerned about the trend of tuition making up more and more of the university’s operating grant.

“With the decline, it is a significant concern and I think this is a clear message from the senator that the government needs to start looking at potentially funding universities better,” said Hamade.

According to Nazar, the government of Ontario has provided significant increases to university funding.

“For 2014-15, the ministry allocated approximately $3.5 billion in operating grants to universities — this represents an increase of about $1.6 billion, or 85 per cent over 2002-03. Operating grants to the University of Waterloo have increased by $113.1 million or 87 per cent since 2002-03,” Nazar said.

Addressing the concerns around the shrinking percentage of government funding, Hamdullahpur added, “government funding has been steadily declining over the past several years and Ontario is one of the lowest-funded provinces on a per-capita basis. However, the university stands firmly on the fundamental values and principles of publicly funded higher education and will continue its presence and success based on them.” 

While Hamade was unsure if Feds had a position on privatization, he believed that OUSA did and that it is an important issue to discuss.

“I think it’s important that we look at increased public funding, a lot of this discussion is arising because we are seeing less per-student funding,” said Hamade.