Where are Canadian Universities Getting their Money?
Enbridge’s relationship with U of C highlights issues with post-secondary funding
Nina Grossman, News Editor
Recently the University of Calgary’s relationship with one of Canada’s biggest energy companies has been placed in the limelight. CBC news began an investigation with a freedom of information request into Enbridge’s corporate influence on the U of C and the funding going into a research centre on campus. Reportedly the documents that CBC received from the U of C show the institution giving Enbridge gratuitous freedom and control over public relations and other operations. CBC reports that the energy company pledged $2.25 million over a 10-year period with potential funding in the future for the establishment of the research centre. Enbridge apparently sought further authority; attempting to influence board memberships, staff, and the eligibility of students for awards and scholarships. Many feel that the company’s influence caused a conflict of interest, with too much corporate control over mandates and operations impacting students and over all academics. In a statement responding to the CBC’s investigations, Enbridge has said that it has not tried to affect the research centre’s staffing or operations. DzWe’ve always known from day one that the credibility associated with solid research, sound research, has to be based on academic freedom.Regardless, the centre has lost the Enbridge in its title, now simply DzCentre for Corporate Sustainability. Openly seeking corporate financial support is not exclusive to the U of C. Since the early 90s, government funding of Canadian universities has decreased and now sits at around 40 to 60 per cent depending on the institution. This points at a bigger issue. Where should universities get their funding if the government isn’t helping them out? An article from the Globe and Mail reports that the number of Canadian universities collecting as much money (if not more) from students as they are from provincial government grants is steadily increasing and students are undoubtedly feeling the increased weight. A study by TD Economics shows that across Canada, tuition fees accounted for 36 per cent of university revenue in 2005. Although Statistics Canada released data showing that in 2009 tuition fees accounted for roughly 20 per cent of
post-secondary revenue; many experts believe that number will only continue to increase. Alarmingly, the Canadian Federation of Students stated that university undergraduate tuition fees have outpaced inflation by 509 percent. Public systems cannot operate without substantial government contributions. As tuition has increased, post-secondary institutions are dealing with broke and angry students struggling to make ends meet. This is probably when corporate sponsorship starts to look like a not so bad idea. Some experts say that it is possible to balance corporate funding and academic independence as long as there are protocols and regulations in place to maintain the institutions credibility. The issue is that corporations who provide funding obviously have motives outside of supporting the institution, and their funding usually comes with a set of conditions. Now that the Alberta government has released it’s budget for the coming year, plans for a two per cent increase in base funding may change the nature of post-secondary revenue. Changes may takes some time though, so a continued reliance on Canada’s watchdog press may be the best bet to keep an eye on private and public sector relationships in the world of higher education.