Think your tuition bill is too high? Check out the government's -

Think your tuition bill is too high? Check out the government’s

Most university funding doesn’t come from students

Compensation of Quebec Admins

Photo courtesy of Duckie Monster on Flickr

In South Korea, post-secondary students are demanding that the government pay a bigger share of the bill for higher education. Their government spends around $7,000 per student per year, while students pay an average of $8,000 in tuition fees. The protesters think the government should bring funding in line with the OECD-average spending — $10,000 per pupil in 2006-07.

That’s a modest request, considering how much Canadian governments spend. On average, it was over $20,000 per student in 2007, making our universities the second-most publicly-funded in the 31-member OECD. Funding per student was just behind Switzerland (the highest in the world), a third ahead of the U.S. and more than double the rich-country average. (For more, see page 237 of this OECD report.)

The debate about how costs should be split isn’t new to Canadians. There have always people who believe post-secondary education is a public good, so the state should foot the entire tab for everyone. On the other extreme, there have always been people who argue that a degree primarily benefits the person who takes it, so that person should cover most of the costs.

But do students realize how little of universities’ total budgets are funded by tuition?

Statistics Canada data show that nationwide tuition fees make up roughly 20 per cent of universities’ revenue, while federal and provincial transfers make up 55 per cent.

So the next time you pay that $5,000 tuition bill, consider that the taxpayers likely kicked in around $20,000 toward the school’s budget. Then ask yourself: Is this really such a bad deal?

Here are the numbers from 2009.

Source: Statistics Canada Canada N.L. P.E.I. N.S. N.B.
Total revenue 37,441,581,000 613,274,000 171,382,000 1,189,594,000 624,295,000
Own source revenue 44.8 31.9 47.2 57.1 47.0
Sales of goods and services 34.4 26.7 41.1 47.4 36.1
Tuition fees 20.5 13.9 23.2 29.9 27.2
Other sales of goods and services 13.9 12.8 17.9 17.5 9.0
Investment income 2.9 0.7 1.4 3.1 3.5
Other own-source revenue 7.4 4.5 4.7 6.6 7.3
Government transfers 55.2 68.1 52.8 42.9 53.0
Federal 9.0 11.8 11.7 9.2 7.9
Provincial 46.1 56.1 41.0 33.7 45.1
Local 0.1 0.1 .. 0.0 0.0


Think your tuition bill is too high? Check out the government’s

  1. Quite a misleading story, especially when the statistics are only presented for Atlantic Provinces. What portion of these government grants are for new buildings (ie. growth), which portion is for research, and which is for actual teaching?

    In Ontario, it’s fairly well known that student tuition makes up about 45% of a university’s operating budget. The capital budgets are seperate beasts entirely. And research which may never see a classroom comes out of operating.

    At University of Waterloo, check out this operating budget – – showing how tuition fees and other student charges (“co-op recovery” and “student services fee”) push student funding well past the level of government funding.

  2. “…it’s fairly well known…” meaning it fits the agenda of the person making the argument but that person is unable to provide any figures to support the fact.

  3. I think each University is different. There was an article today that Laurier University received $72 million in funding. U of Waterloo received $100 million from Mike Lazaridis, RIM Founder, a few years ago. There are universities that raise more money from private sponsorship and donations than from government.

  4. Those with a high school diploma and no more education (15% of the population) pay 11% of income taxes in Canada while receiving 15% of the transfers. Contrast this with those Canadians with University Degrees (22% of the population) who pay 44% of income taxes in Canada while only receiving 14% of the transfers. See more on Page 3 here:

  5. Earl: why on Earth wouldn’t you count capital funds and research as part of the university’s expenses? These are all part of the operation of the facility. When you buy, let’s say, a burger at McDonald’s, you aren’t just paying for the physical food itself–that’s maybe 30 cents worth of food for a $5 burger. You’re also paying the salaries of the employees, maintenance of the building, business taxes, property taxes, transportation, quality control, merchandizing, advertizing, profits, etc.

    When you go to university, you aren’t paying for teaching. You’re paying for the buildings, the computer labs, the research labs, the course labs. You’re paying for campus-wide WIFI and high speed internet. You’re paying for books for your library, for subscriptions to hundreds of academic journals. You’re paying the salaries of professors, teaching assistants, grad students, technicians, post-docs, janitorial staff, landscapers, food service people, security, administrators, counselors, health service workers, auditors, accountants, librarians. You’re paying for scholarships and bursaries for your fellow students. And yes, you’re paying for research. Most of your professors probably wouldn’t be working there if you weren’t, because their research is their life’s work; teaching undergraduates is not.

  6. Because post-secondary education is a provincial responsibility, the share of a university’s budget provided by government, varies greatly between provinces, and even between institutions. And as Earl notes above, there is a difference between capital (new and replacement buildings) and operational (mostly employee salaries) budgets.

    For BC, my province, here are some numbers for the percentage of total revenue in 2010 (provincial government/tuition):

    UBC = 49.2/18.2
    SFU = 47.5/27.8
    UVic = 35.3/17.5
    UNBC = 41.7/15.9
    KPU = 52.9/28.9
    UFV = 59.5/25.5

    Obviously there are other sources of revenue, especially for the research universities, but it’s always surprising for students when they learn just how much their tuition contributes towards running the place.

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