Education funding falls behind health
By Anton Vidgen
Spending on health care has exceeded total funding for education
in Canada, prompting educators to question the governments’ commitment
to the public system.
According to a recently released report by Statistics Canada,
government spending — as a whole in Canada — on
education remained relatively steady at approximately 15 per
cent of total expenditures, while health care spending rose
to 17 per cent. Until 2000, education spending was higher than
that of health care.
Statistics indicate the funding gap between health care and
education will only widen, said Francois Nault, assistant director
of the Centre for Education Statistics at Statistics Canada.
“One of the factors has been the aging of the population,” Nault
said, explaining how an older populace is more dependent on
a well-funded health care system. In response, governments
change their policies and allocate funding accordingly, he
Penny Milton, chief executive officer of the Canadian Education
Association, said different studies have shown education contributes
to a healthy life while health care only reacts to sickness. “One
creates health, the other deals with the absence of health,” she
Milton also said health care has an immediacy to it that resonates
with voters and politicians, while education has benefits realized
mainly in the long term.
The report also found that private funding played an important
role in supporting the public education system, representing
27 per cent of all expenditures at the post-secondary level
in 2001/2002. This occurred alongside increasing tuition fees,
with undergraduate tuition almost doubling over the past decade.
Student advocates said these statistics were troubling but
revealed how governments have slowly strayed away from one
of their biggest obligations.
“I think it’s a horrible trend because the government,
both provincially and federally, has been shrugging the responsibility
to provide a strong education system that is public,” said
Dave Ford, VP-education for the University Students’ Council. “Universities
by their very nature are to be public.”
Ford also said the increase in private expenditures is not
appropriate for public institutions. “The burden of responsibility
is shifting from the public to the private citizen,” he
said. “It flies in the face of what is supposed to be
a public education.”
The widening funding gap between health care and education
is not the main issue, Ford said. “The issue of prioritization
is not a concern. It’s whether the education system is
being funded at an adequate level,” he said.
At Western, the operating budget is 40 per cent reliant on
tuition fees as opposed to 25 per cent in past years, Ford
“The more private dollars we see coming into campus,
[the more] there will be a feeling among institutions and governments
that [private funding] would serve as a replacement for public
funding,” said James Kusie, national director of the
Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. “We need to
ensure the majority of funds are public monies free from private