Open letter to provincial governments

August 15, 2002

Re: A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY: THE FUTURE OF UNIVERSITY RESEARCH IN CANADA, an open letter to the Provinces from the Canadian Consortium for Research

Dear Premier,

The Canadian Consortium for Research (CCR) is an advocacy coalition comprised of front-line researchers in both the public and private sectors, as well as the down stream users of research in government, private businesses and public institutions such as schools and hospitals. Our goal is to ensure that Canada is a world leader in the full spectrum of research: in the bio-medical
sciences, the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. The Consortium believes that a research intensive economy will provide Canadians with the best quality of life and the highest possible standard of living. We also believe that achieving this success depends on an accessible and high-quality post-secondary education system and a strong
university research sector.


The CCR is uniquely placed to bring the experience of researchers to the public policy debate. In carrying out this task our voice has traditionally been directed towards the federal government. As Ottawa’s transfer payments for post-secondary education declined, the Consortium took up the provinces’ cause, arguing that continued excellence in post-secondary education depended on the federal government maintaining its long-standing commitment to bearing a share of the costs of the
university system.
Unfortunately, our effort in this regard has met limited success. Ottawa’s position has been that lack of provincial accountability with respect to such transfers is a powerful disincentive to restore funding levels. For front-line researchers, the dispute between the two levels of government is the source of great concern. As jurisdictional arguments continue, the post-secondary education system in Canada is falling further and further into disrepair. To reverse this decline the Consortium has decided to broaden its efforts by reaching out not just to the federal government, but to provincial capitals as well. Our hope is that our voice can encourage both levels of government to accept a shared responsibility for the health of post-secondary education and to work together for the benefit of all Canadians.


Universities are the backbone of Canada’s research enterprise. Two thirds of all scientific papers published in Canada emanate from universities and much of the country’s cutting edge research is performed by university faculty. Universities are also where the next generation of researchers prepare for their careers. To continue in this crucial role, three components of the post-secondary education system require particular attention. Students, the future of research, need low tuition and generous support to pursue both graduate and post graduate studies.

At the staff level, universities need the resources to attract and keep the best minds and to allow faculty to do the best possible job – both as teachers and as researchers. Finally, the success of universities is also dependent on the condition of university infrastructure – laboratories, libraries and teaching facilities. Crumbling buildings and empty book shelves are not conducive to pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge.


All governments in Canada have spoken out strongly about the importance of research and education. However, these words are not matched by deeds. The federal government sharply reduced transfers to the provinces for post-secondary education, reductions that, when inflation and population growth are factored in, have not yet been restored. The provinces, in turn, have steadily decreased their own spending on education. The combination of funding cutbacks by these two levels of government is creating a crisis in Canada’s research community.


The numbers speak for themselves. Provincial funding for post-secondary education, on a constant dollar per capita basis, is 27% below 1992/93 levels. The biggest declines have occurred in Canada’s two richest provinces, Ontario and Alberta. Interestingly, two of Canada’s smaller provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, have actually managed to increase spending in this sector.


The damage caused by these funding cuts is manifesting itself in a number of ways. The cuts are leading to significantly increased student tuition, which in turn results in diminished access to a university education and an increase in the size of student loans at graduation. High fees and high student debt are a growing impediment to equal access to university by Canadians and a serious disincentive to students who would like to pursue graduate programs. The consequence is a great loss to Canada’s research capacity.

Funding cutbacks are also taking their toll on staff. Universities have seen a decrease in the number of faculty, which in turn has increased class size and diminished the quality of student teacher interaction.

To cope with financial shortfalls, university administrations are deferring the maintenance of physical infrastructure. A recent Canadian Association of University Business Officers (CAUBO) report conservatively estimates the accumulated deferred maintenance at Canadian universities at $3.6 billion. As the learning, living and research environment on campuses deteriorates, Canada’s research capacity declines.

The financial crisis has also damaged university libraries. Of the top 111 research libraries in the United States and Canada only thirteen are Canadian institutions. Even more disturbing, of the 111 only twelve have reduced their total library expenditures in the last decade and of this twelve, eleven are Canadian.


Canada’s future depends on a vibrant post secondary education sector. At no time in our country’s history has this been more important.

To ensure that the challenges of providing accessible university education and high quality university research are met, the Canadian Consortium for Research urges both senior levels of government to come to transparent and accountable arrangements that allow for the adequate funding of our universities. Without this cooperation, Canada’s educational institutions will continue to struggle.

The CCR urges provincial governments to reinvest in post-secondary education at levels that will adequately sustain it now and in the future. This investment needs to return to 1991/1992 per capita levels and then be adjusted upwards in constant dollars to account for inflation and population growth.

Ottawa and the provinces must co-operate on the development of a renewed federal/provincial funding mechanism specifically for post-secondary education that addresses the issues of adequacy, accountability, transparency and fairness. The development and implementation of this mechanism needs to be accomplished quickly as our universities struggle under current conditions. Canada’s universities are essential to enhancing social and economic growth. They need your help and they need it now. Canadians in every province value universities, university based research and a university education. They want their governments to take action.

Please join with us and your fellow governments to ensure a healthy, productive and adequately funded university sector that helps Canada meet its challenges of today and tomorrow. Canadians want this for themselves and their children.

Yours sincerely,
Paul Ledwell, Chair
Canadian Consortium for Research