Ontario colleges will appeal directly to Premier Kathleen Wynne for increased funding Monday, and call for an urgent meeting to address budget shortfalls they say will leave them unable to deliver programs to train students for jobs in demand.
"The government seems to be able to find money for a number of sectors – there is money for hospitals, for school boards. … Also hundreds of millions of dollars are coming for transit. We feel we are not being heard as a system," said Fred Gibbons, the chair of Colleges Ontario, the advocacy group that represents the schools in Ontario.
The call for help from Ms. Wynne comes only days after colleges were criticized by Ontario Deputy Premier Deb Matthews for introducing proposals for new salary structures for presidents and other senior administrators. As initially proposed, the plans could lead to double-digit salary increases. Last week, Ms. Matthews, who is also the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, privately and publicly told colleges the initial "salary frameworks" were "unacceptable" and must be reconsidered.
"The people of Ontario have a right to know how their dollars are spent and they deserve a clear rationale as to why executives are paid what they are paid," Ms. Matthews said.
Colleges say they will revise their plans but that running the schools is a tough and complex job and has been made even more so by the fact that administrators are working with limited public funds.
"Each of the colleges is responsible for raising more than 50 per cent of their income because of insufficient government funding," Mr. Gibbons said. "These organizations need the best possible talent to run them."
Colleges are partly turning to Ms. Wynne because she was responsible for setting up an expert panel on a highly skilled work force that recommended closer links between postsecondary institutions and employers, as well as increased exposure to skilled trades and experiential learning.
"Colleges see themselves as central to the Premier being able to achieve that direction," Mr. Gibbons said.
A report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was made public last week, warned that acute funding shortfalls were threatening the viability of colleges.
Unless the schools cut staff, receive more government funds and increase tuition by 4 to 5 per cent a year, they will accumulate a $1.9-billion deficit by 2025, the report said. A decline in the population over the next several years of those between the ages of 18 and 24 especially threatens the sustainability of smaller and more remote colleges.
The measures the PwC report recommended go further than recent government changes to postsecondary funding. In December, the province announced it would provide grants for universities and colleges that would compensate schools if enrolment fell.
But it also capped tuition increases at 3 per cent a year, the same amount for colleges as for universities. Colleges had lobbied to be allowed to raise fees at faster rates than universities. Because their tuition is lower, increases of 3 per cent add an average of only $200 per student to their budgets.
Limits on fee hikes have been welcomed by students.
Higher tuition fees "can be the difference between being able to take transit to get to school or not going at all," said Emmaline Scharbach, the communications manager for the College Student Alliance.