Ontario’s universities are lagging behind their American counterparts and need billions in the coming provincial budget to modernize campuses, train more graduate students and lower student-teacher ratios, the president of the Council of Ontario Universities said yesterday.

Paul Genest, president of the council, told a legislative pre-budget committee that universities need some $1.6 billion to improve existing labs, libraries and classrooms. University buildings are getting older and coming under increasing pressure from the ballooning number of students, he said.

“This is a problem that has been getting worse over the years,” Genest said. “The government does give $40 million a year to address deferred maintenance but more needs to be done.”

Aging classrooms can’t house the kind of modern technology fuelling today’s cutting-edge research, he added. The province wouldn’t necessarily have to pony up all the cash, but could make a significant commitment to cover at least half the costs with the universities picking up the rest of the tab, Genest said.