The province announced March 19 it is providing $106.4 million to help publicly assisted colleges and universities address the financial impacts of COVID-19.
But left off of the list of 12 colleges and 10 universities receiving funding is Laurentian University, which declared in February it is insolvent, and is currently restructuring under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).
The impact of COVID-19 is named in the CCAA court documents as one of the factors putting financial pressure on Laurentian University.
Sudbury.com reached out to Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano's office to ask why Laurentian did not receive any of the new funding. We received the following written response:
"At this time, a one-time injection of funding through this COVID-19 Support Fund is not going to fix the significant long-term and systemic challenges faced by Laurentian," the statement said.
"We are confident that the CCAA process is the right way to address the longstanding issues at the institution. Minister Romano is working with Alan Harrison to monitor the CCAA proceedings and ensure that continuity of learning for Laurentian’s student is protected."
The province said funding will provide immediate and targeted support for post-secondary institutions that are most affected by decreases in tuition and ancillary revenues and have incurred expenses associated with online learning, personal protective equipment and enhanced cleaning.
Institutions can also use the funding in 2020-2021 to offset COVID-19 expenses related to student financial supports and human resources.
"The post-secondary sector is critical to Ontario's prosperity as a key source of job creation, skills training, research, innovation and commercialization, making it one of the leading contributors to Ontario's economic recovery," Romano said, in a press release.
"We need to make sure that students continue to receive high-quality post-secondary education and get the skills they need to get good jobs. That is why we are establishing a fund for severely impacted colleges and universities to help address the financial impacts of COVID-19 and to maintain Ontario's position as a global leader in higher education."
A press release from Ontario’s faculty and academic librarians said the group is appalled and dismayed that none of the $106.4 million in new post-secondary funding announced by the Ontario government has been allocated to Laurentian University.
This funding is purportedly designed to go to institutions most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it excludes the only post-secondary institution currently facing insolvency, said a press release from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA).
This announcement demonstrates this government’s callous disregard for the people of Sudbury and the students, faculty, and staff who work at Laurentian, the release said.
“The crisis at Laurentian University would have been avoided if this government did its job and properly funded Ontario’s universities,” said OCUFA president Rahul Sapra.
“Not only did the policies of this government push Laurentian over the edge, but Minister Romano knew about Laurentian’s precarious financial position at least six months beforehand, which gave him more than enough time to provide the university with the financial support it needed to avoid insolvency.
“It is beyond comprehension that this government would allocate $106.4 million to public post-secondary institutions in Ontario and not spend a single penny to support the only public post-secondary institution in Ontario currently facing insolvency,” said Sapra.
“If it wasn’t clear before today, the Ford government is completely out of touch with the needs of Ontario’s public post-secondary education system.”
The funding announcement will only provide a partial relief to universities experiencing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and previous policies introduced by this government, the group said.
The $44 million allocated to universities falls well short of the $500 million in funding Ontario universities have said they need, OCUFA said.
NDP critic for Colleges and Universities Laura Mae Lindo put out a press release calling for real investments in the post-secondary sector following what she said is the Ford government’s announcement of too-little funding for only some, not all, post-secondary institutions hard hit by the pandemic.
"Every post-secondary institution across Ontario has been hard hit by the pandemic,” she said.
“That's why the Council of Ontario Universities called for $500 million for universities alone. Today’s announcement is crumbs — just a fraction of what’s needed — and fails to address the funding crisis facing colleges and universities that were already suffering from Ford’s cuts and chronic under-funding of the sector.
“Post-secondary education is an integral part of our future, and key to our long-term economic recovery. Investing in colleges and universities is investing in people, investing in jobs, and investing in recovery.
“What the sector needs is concrete investments that will stabilize every college and university in the province, especially now that we have entered the third wave of the pandemic. Every post-secondary institution has seen significant cost increases and lost revenue, and every college and university deserves more support."
Laurentian may not be receiving funding from the pot of money, but the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, which operates both on the Laurentian and Lakehead campuses, is listed as receiving $400,000.
Three other Northern Ontario universities are also receiving funding — Lakehead University in Thunder Bay will receive $6.1 million, Nipissing University in North Bay $3 million and Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie $4.8 million.
Among colleges, Cambrian College in Sudbury is also not receiving any of the funding.
However, Collège Boréal (which has a campus in Sudbury, among other places in Ontario) is receiving $800,000.
Canadore College in North Bay is receiving $5.5 million and Northern College in Timmins is receiving $900,000.