A recent survey by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations says people in northern Ontario don't want money taken out of university coffers to balance provincial government budgets.

The group says the findings about the value northern Ontario residents place on higher education can be used as a special weapon for universities during times of political uncertainty.

OCUFA survey findings include:

  • 74% oppose any deficit-cutting policy that damages the quality of university education in Ontario.
  • 78% of northern Ontario residents oppose cuts to university funding.
  • 82% oppose shifting the cost of higher education onto students and their families through higher tuition fees.
  • 60% believe that a university funding freeze by government would harm the quality of higher education in the province, compared to 5% who think it would have a positive effect.

Lead researcher André Turcotte said universities can also use the study results to engage in a discussion about higher education.

"So they could use these results and the strong support that people have in terms of not cutting costs at universities to try and make a point with the provincial government," he said.

"And this is more likely to have an impact because there could be an election coming up."

The head of Laurentian University's faculty association said the poll was done at a time when austerity has become more of a reality for academia.

"Gradually it's starting to bite, and I think one of the issues that all universities are facing now are pension issues," Anis Farah said. "This [is] going to require universities to put more money in."

Being job-ready

The study also shows key differences between northern Ontario and the rest of the province: it says people here view job-readiness as the ultimate goal of their degree, versus becoming better-rounded.

"Because of the nature of the economy that we have — and … that the average income in northern Ontario is lower — people look at a job-ready member of the family as very important," Farah said.

Farah said the results of the study could be used to lobby the provincial government and that, despite the need for a balanced budget, austerity cuts shouldn't be coming from the pockets of universities."

Study responses also indicated people were uncertain as to which provincial political party can provide the best advocacy for higher education during this time of austerity.

A total of 1,518 online interviews were conducted for the study which was held Dec. 10-14, 2012. A total of 301 responses came from northern Ontario.