Students’ Protests and University Salaries: Students should join with taxpayers to protest the high salaries given to professors and administrators

Commentary, Education, Rodney Clifton

University students across Canada held noisy demonstrations on Wednesday, February 1, 2012.  The students were concerned about the cost and the quality of the education they were receiving.  Tens of thousands turned out to let citizens and governments know that they were dissatisfied.  Simply stated, students are paying too much and receiving too little.

A number of professors supported these students.  At Ryerson University, for example, professors and administrators permitted students to skip classes without penalties. For them, students are paying too much, but the education they receive is at least good, if not excellent.

According to Statistics Canada, the average annual undergraduate tuition fee is now $5,366, which has increased by between 3 and 4 percent per year over the last two decades.  Also, according to Statistics Canada the total revenue for Canadian universities in 2008-2009 was $37.4 billion.  Of this, tuition fees represented 20.5 percent and federal, provincial, and municipal government grants represented 55.2 percent.  The remaining 24.3 percent came from the sale of goods and services, investments, and other revenues, some of which were other fees paid by students.

The Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Association of University Teachers have both recognized that the demand for university education and the cost are outstripping resources.  Consequently, together they have called on the federal government to pass legislation that would provide targeted funds to provinces earmarked specifically for post secondary education.

Students and professors have been united in expecting governments to increase their grants to universities to offset the students’ increasing tuition fees.  They both agree that universities are underfunded and students are paying too much.  If true, then governments and taxpayers must be paying too little.

Nevertheless, before complaining too loudly, students, specifically, should look at how universities spend the $37.4 billion they receive.

If so, they would discover that a substantial increase in the cost of universities results from the compensation paid to professors and administrators.  The table reports that the salaries for full professors and the compensation given to presidents of 13 Western Canadian universities in 2005 and 2009.

Seven of the universities report the average salaries of full professors, which increased from a low of 8.7 percent at the University of Northern British Columbia (from $98,488 to $107,052 per year) to a high of 26.2 percent at Athabasca University (from $110,937 to $139,975).

Even more telling, the total compensation the presidents of ten of the 13 universities received increased from a low of 10.7 percent at the University of Winnipeg, to a high of 132.8 percent at the University of Alberta.  In fact, the three presidents with the highest yearly compensation packages in 2009 were from the University of Alberta ($701,000), UBC ($575,813), and Simon Fraser University ($483,666). 

In other words, these presidents are worth 4.7 full professors (or the fees of 130.6 students) at Alberta, 3.8 full professors (or the fees of 107.3 students) at UBC, and 3.6 full professors (or the fees of 90.1 students) at Simon Fraser.

The increases to these professors and administrators are surprising because tuition fees have increased by about 15 percent while the consumer price index has increased by less than 7 percent between 2005 and 2009.  Consequently, universities are increasing tuition fees at the same time they are giving their professors and administrators very nice compensation packages and substantial increases in the value of those packages.

It seems that students receive too little for their fees, but taxpayers are also paying too much.

Next February when the day of protest takes place, university students should join with taxpayers to demonstrate on the compensation that professors and university presidents receive and not against ‘penny-pinching’ governments who are—at least in the minds of professors and university administrators—underfunding universities.