The bankruptcy of Laurentian University is an indictment of the policy failures of the Ford Conservatives, who are failing in their responsibility to ensure Ontarians have access to high-quality post-secondary education, says CUPE.

“The chronic underfunding of post-secondary institutions has led to universities’ relying on revenues from enrolment and the private sector. The pandemic has created the perfect storm as declining enrolment rates combined with the Ford government’s systematic attack on revenue streams has led to this disaster at Laurentian,” said David Simao, Chair of CUPE’s OUWCC.

Just before the pandemic, the Ford government cut university budgets by four per cent. In 2019, the Conservatives had also reduced tuition fees by 10 per cent without making up for the shortfall in revenues through additional funding. Universities are also challenged by the Ford government’s new performance-based funding model, which will further erode the quality of higher education.

Smaller universities like Laurentian have been particularly hard-hit during the pandemic as revenues decline due to lower enrolment rates.

“The people of Sudbury deserve to have a world-class university in their community, and the government must step in to ensure Laurentian does not go under. But this is also part of a larger problem, whereby many other universities are also struggling financially,” Simao said.

Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario, said that chronic underfunding has harmed the most marginalized communities across Ontario as universities have dramatically increased tuition fees and thereby created barriers to higher education. Ontario currently has the third highest tuition fees for domestic students and the highest tuition fees for international students.

“Post-secondary education has not received adequate support during this massive global pandemic, even though workers, students and administrators have been ringing the alarm bells. Instead, the government’s priority has been to support for-profit corporations over our public institutions,” Hahn said.

“This is a wake-up call for the Ford Conservatives. Our post-secondary universities are public institutions and require public solutions premised on the idea of accessible, equitable and quality higher education for Ontarians. We need to have a clear and holistic plan to help our universities overcome the challenges of the current crises, and that plan must acknowledge the policy failures that have brought us to this point.”