Apoyo financiero a universidades a propósito del Covid-19
Mayo 7, 2020

ay 5th, 2020 – Alex Usher

Following yesterday’s discussion re: how we might want to ask for money, I thought it would be useful to look at how other national governments are responding to post-secondary pleas for help. For obvious reasons, the focus here is on countries which rely on private funding (i.e. fees) to fund their systems, as publicly-funded systems aren’t immediately affected by changes in student demand and can borrow to cover shortfalls.
Let’s start over the pond in the UK, where the Universities sector has a sked the government for a bailout of £2.1 billion (C$4.2 billion) , which is just a bit less than  the £2.4 billion the University and College Union (basically the equivalent of CAUT) estimated as the true impact of the pandemic on institutions . Something like half of it is for a doubling in “quality-related” research funding, which in Canadian means money to the tri-councils. This sounds odd, because in Canada we don’t think of project-based research funds as being part of the operating budget, so we would never think that tri-council money would be a reasonable replacement for tuition fee income. But the UK (and also Australia) are a lot more uninhibited when it comes to describing the cross-subsidies inherent in universities, and since funding for research staff is mostly where income from international students go, this isn’t quite as outlandish as it sounds.
Universities UK have also asked for a ton of other stuff: more funding for the indirect costs of research, some money for re-skilling and STEM, that kind of thing. But, for reasons which are beyond comprehension, the universities pre-agreed to concessions in some areas: the main one being that there might need to be a number of mergers and federations on the other side of the crisis (like, this is probably true, but why in hell would you put a concession like that in an ask? Amateur move.)
And here is what the UK government gave them:  diddly-squat . Roughly 100 million, or about five percent of the ask.
Now, over to Australia, where the peak universities body said their  projected losses were in the $3-4.5 billion range (C$2.7 – $4 billion) , primarily due to the loss of international student fee revenue (though domestic enrolments also seem to be down for the year) and that losses on this scale likely meant job losses on the order of 21,000 nation-wide.  Unlike their UK colleagues, they did not make a formal “ask”, but the nudge-wink was obviously that they were looking for help.
And here is what the Australian government gave them: diddly-squat (analysis here ). About $100 million. And while some fee-dependent universities clearly met the lost-revenue test to enter the Australian equivalent of our Wage Subsidy scheme, the Government chose to specifically exclude them from subsidies.
In the US, I have yet to see a sector-wide analysis of costs of the pandemic; in the absence of this we are getting all sorts of bananas projections from individual universities, like the one where the University of Michigan claims it is looking at up to a  $1 Billion shortfall as a result of COVID  (which I can only assume is mostly due to impacts on the University hospital). Universities certainly made their voices heard during the insane rush for funding that took place during the $2 trillion bail-out which took place in March, but it doesn’t seem that there was much in the way of a unified ask. Just: “please, something”.
And here is what they got:  around $14 billion (C$20 billion), maybe a bit more, of which $6 billion has to be spent on student aid , which is more than diddly-squat. But given that  state government revenues are tanking , and that many states are going to be cutting funding by 10-20%, much of that federal aid’s value will be wiped out. So, if you like, the  net  aid from both levels of government is diddly-squat.
Which brings us to Canada. The national peak bodies have not made any claims for assistance yet. All we have so far (as far as I know) is fairly  tone-deaf plea from unions in Nova Scotia , demanding full coverage of any lost income so that not a cent of cuts have to be made at any institution, anywhere, even as the rest of the economy burns because, hey, we’re special.  We can be pretty sure there is no provincial bail-out in Alberta or Manitoba. But everywhere else? And what about federal assistance?
Well, it’s possible. Unlike those other three countries, our national government is of the centre-left rather than the right, which may make a difference. And certainly, if the U15 wanted to, they could make a hell of an argument that this is “Canada’s moment” (again) – if we put money into the system when no one else does, our universities are likely to attract an awful lot of international talent, much in the way they did in the aftermath of 2008. Our relative standing in the world could conceivably jump quite a bit – and that might make an interesting bait for a government always wanting to burnish its progressive credentials.
On the other hand, though, the feds did just spend  $9 billion on students , which is a heck of a lot of money. Where the higher education sector is concerned, it might feel it has already given at the office. That would be consistent with the “ feed the students, starve the institutions ” mentality that has dominated policy-making towards students at the provincial level since the financial crisis.
At this point it is hard to predict how things will pan out in Canada. All we can say for sure right now is that our main competitors are setting the bar incredibly low as far as assistance to higher education is concerned.


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