November 27, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 50  

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Education funding falls behind health

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

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 added.

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 said.

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 noted.

“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 influence.”



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