General Operating Income (GOI) funds most of the key functions supporting the operation of the institution (the Support Cost areas), as well as the teaching area – Instruction & Non-Sponsored Research (Instruction), and Student Services.
Some 95% of GOI* comes from provincial grants and student fees. (* Incomes from the sale of products and services are excluded from the analysis on this site because they are handled differently at some universities). The split between grant and fee income varies from province to province and from school to school.
This site does not explore the topic of Income in detail because significant differences between universities and provinces undermine their comparability. A university’s Tuition Fee average depends on at least three key variables. The first is the level of support provided by the province (which differs based on various factors, including the state of the provincial economy, and the ideology of the governing party). The second is the university’s mix of academic programs, because some courses involve much higher fees. The third key variable is the school’s level of international student enrollment, because these students pay much higher fees than domestic students, but are not normally covered by provincial operating grants.
The chart below shows the change across the Top 25 since 2001 in “Real Dollars” (adjusted for both inflation and enrollment). Positive values denote increases exceeding inflation and enrollment combined:
Top 25 Change Overview (Inflation-adjusted):
- Provincial Grant income averaged $358 million in 2022 – up 45% since 2001 (down 2% vs 2010). It now accounts for 44.0% of Total GOI (61.5% in 2001, 57.4% in 2010).
- Total Student Fee income averaged $428 in 2022 – up 224% vs 2001 (up 86% since 2010). It now accounts for 52.5% of GOI (32.8% in 2001, 36.0% in 2010).
- Other incomes averaged $29 million in 2022 – up 26% since 2001 (down 32% since 2010). They now account for 3.5% of GOI (5.7% in 2001, 6.6% in 2010).
- Total General Operating Income averaged $815 million in 2022 – up 102% since 2001 (28% since 2010).
To add perspective to the above numbers, average enrollment has increased by 57% since 2001 (21% since 2010).
While our universities emerged from Covid with less lasting damage than had been feared, there was one area in which the pandemic took a major toll, as it did for organizations and individuals around the globe: losses on investments. Those losses are reflected in the negative numbers for Other Incomes.
There is one other notable feature in the chart. During the first decade, 2001-2010, provincial grants were increasing at a rate much greater than enrollment and inflation combined. Nevertheless, most universities still sought substantial tuition fee increase. Under pressure from student associations, numerous provinces responded with caps (or even freezes) on tuition increases.
During those years a suspicion developed within some student associations that their universities were circumventing those constraints by implementing major increases in Other Fees (compulsory non-academic fees, which were unregulated). The chart seems to lend credence to those suspicions. Most provinces have now established student-involved approval procedures for increases in Other Fees.
The analysis on this site suggests that some form of tuition fee regulation has multiple major benefits:
- It would limit the ability of universities to perpetuate the kind of inefficiencies outlined on the site, and force them to start rectifying those issues; de-regulating fees has not solved PSE’s problems – it has fed them.
- It would provide students with greater financial certainty when they embark on their courses of study; they didn’t knowingly sign up for runaway cost inflation, and hitting them with it was demonstrably needless and arguably unprincipled.
- It would enhance accessibility so that young Canadians from less wealthy backgrounds can commence their journey of upward economic mobility; if Canada is sincere about driving that transition, this is a very good place to show it.
- It would start to arrest the deeply troubling rise in student debt; progress on that front would strengthen the Canadian economy, and also offer some hope to communities outside of Canada’s major cities, which have been dealing for some time with the damaging loss of their younger generations to larger centres.
Given everything on this website, and the part that the provinces have played in allowing it to happen, one of the best (and most principled) moves they could make is to start re-implementing some reasonable constraints on Tuition Fee increases. That development would likely be welcomed by most student organizations.