Post-secondary exploitation

Frontier Centre for Public Policy criticizes universities for taking advantage of undergraduates

According to Rodney Clifton, Canadian tuition fees have increased by 215 per cent over the last 20 years. University expenditures in Canada climbed to $37 billion in 2007, up from $19 billion in 2001, he says. Supplied

Are universities exploiting undergraduate students?

That’s the question Frontier Centre for Public Policy expert Rodney Clifton will be asking at an early morning speaker event in Winnipeg on Thursday, Feb. 7.

Clifton, a senior scholar at St. John’s College at the University of Manitoba, argues Canadian undergraduates pay too much money and expend too many resources on their education, largely because that money is used to subsidize graduate degrees.

“The number of undergraduate students is decreasing, but the money (universities are) bringing in is not,” said Clifton.

According to Clifton, tuition fees have increased by 215 per cent over the last 20 years, and university expenditures in Canada climbed to $37 billion in 2007, up from $19 billion in 2001.

At the University of Manitoba, Clifton sees a discrepancy in how much undergraduate students pay in comparison to graduates.

He argues that although dental students pay 13 times as much as other students, they’re responsible for a smaller proportion of the actual costs of their programs than arts and sciences students.

Although the funding model is common across the country, Clifton does propose a solution to the issue.

“Tuition fees should go directly from student to the faculty they’re registered in, rather than to the university to be divided out,” he said. “Student fees should follow the students that are paying; central administration should have to wrestle them back from the faculty.”

In March, Clifton will speak to the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association.

Determining how the University of Winnipeg uses its student fees is difficult, he says.

“A proposal that I am going to make is that universities have information available,” he said, adding the University of Manitoba is one of the most transparent in Canada.

Clifton has called for the Council of Ministers of Education to mandate a common reporting format so comparisons can be made across faculties and universities.

Useable, digestible data means students, parents and taxpayers could make informed judgments, he said.

“We have to empower students to constrain the kinds of things universities spend money on. They spend money on all kinds of things - with all kinds of justifications - that have little to do with undergraduates,” he said.

Clifton does not have any data from the U of W and attributes that to the potentially unflattering nature of such information.

“They publicize all these glitzy things, but the substantive issues are never discussed.”

James Currie, acting dean of graduate studies at the U of W, says Clifton may be overlooking other ways universities fund graduate programs.

“He might not be taking into account some research funds. Faculty members want graduate programs so they can get research grants,” he said.

The U of W says the funding model described by Clifton does not apply to its graduate programs.

“The overall cost of grad programs is roughly $620,000. We take in around $400,000 from tuition,” said Currie. “Other sources include instalments of around $275,000 related to MDP (Master’s in Development Practice) programs.”

According to Currie, the university’s senate will only approve programs that are going to be financially viable to the school. The Council on Post-Secondary Education (COPSE) has been clear in stating its disinterest in introducing more graduate programs if they cannot be supported.

The U of W does not offer any PhD programs.

Do Universities Exploit Undergraduates? will take place Thursday, Feb. 7 at the Holiday Inn South at 1330 Pembina Hwy. from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tickets are $20. For more information, call 204-957-1657 ext. 101, or visit

Published in Volume 67, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 7, 2013)

Related Reads