By Jonathan Fowlie
Ryerson is anxiously waiting to hear if the Ontario government will come through with the $3.2 million it promised to cover last year’s surge in enrolment.
The university is currently negotiating with the government to determine the level of funding it will receive.
“The time line is not finalized yet,” said Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse.
“The government said that this would be done by now but these are complex issues.”
Because of the way the provincial government structures its funding, universities in Ontario don’t know until the following year exactly how much funding it will receive.
As a result, universities in Ontario have not been told if they will be subsidized for the extra students they took in due to an increase in student applications.
“You get the funding a year after you’ve dealt with the cost of new enrolment,” said Michael Doucet, head of the Ryerson Faculty Association.
“This is a terrible bind because the next year could be worse.”
On top of the current level of enrolment, Ryerson will see close to 1,500 extra students come to campus over the next two years — a result of the double cohort.
To deal with that uncertainty, Ryerson’s Board of Governors voted over the summer to prepare two budget scenarios. The first — the model the university is currently using — assumes the government will not provide the extra funds.
The second model is the budget that will be introduced if the government pays the extra $3.2 million from last year.
In the meantime, the university is dealing with larger class sizes, fewer professors and many students who have been turned down from some of their course selections.
According to Doucet, 13 professors retired and 11 resigned over the summer. While some new faculty have been hired, Doucet said the university undoubtedly has fewer faculty than last year.
Because there are too few large classrooms on campus there is inadequate space to hold classes with large enrolment, he said.
John Cook, chair of the English department, said he thinks the university is “having to resort to some pretty draconian measures to get things done.”
Cook said the current situation affects the quality of education students receive and forces them to take classes they wouldn’t otherwise choose.
“In some cases we have students with their backs to the walls,” he said.
The provincial government estimates that it will cost them $200 million to fund Ontario’s universities through the double cohort.
Lajeunesse said that despite the funding problems, Ryerson provides an education that is on par with other schools in the province.
As far as larger class sizes go, Lajeunesse said he is not overly concerned.
“In some cases the size of the class matters,” he said. “But in most cases the size of the class is not as important as the dedication and commitment of the teacher of that class.”
Cook said that while larger classes are effective in some instances, most of the time smaller classes are more beneficial.
“It affects the type of assignments you give when you have 300 students,” he said.
“Smaller classes can offer possibilities that larger classes cannot.”
Although Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Dianne Cunningham once promised the extra funding to universities in Ontario, nothing has been done this year to suggest that promise will actually become a reality.
Until that decision is made, students, faculty and staff at Ryerson will have to operate under the assumption that the government will not come through with the extra funding.