Smarten Up Mr. Campbell: Make Education a Priority
Canadian Federation of Students–BC
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Gordon Campbell is playing politics with young people's futures.
One year ago, the BC government received the Campus 2020 Report on BC's post-secondary education system, recommending major investment in research, and equalization of participation in post-secondary education from Aboriginal students and those from low-income backgrounds. Yet, the government put it off for a year, and will continue to dawdle until this fall. Then, just as they were finalizing their budgets, colleges and universities got a nasty shock with a 2.6% cut to the funding they had been promised a month before in the provincial budget, on top of cutbacks to funding new student seats. With economic forecasts worsening, and an election in May 2009, it seems the Liberals needed a fall reserve for their pre-election funding announcements.
As a result, many students will be writing their final exams this week not knowing whether the classes they need next year will continue to be offered, or if that great instructor will still have a job.
Here are just a few examples of the damage so far:
- At the time of the BC Budget announcement, UBC–Vancouver already faced a $24 million structural deficit that it planned to deal with through recurring cuts. The surprise budget cut from the government amounts to an additional $11.3 million. UBC Vancouver is experiencing staff cuts, scaling back faculty hiring, and considering further cuts to programs.
- UBC-Okanagan's planned expansion to meet the Okanagan's needs in sciences and engineering has been severely reduced as the cut amounts to $4.5 million, while faculty and staff hiring is being cut by about 60%.
- Vancouver Community College has cut an entire English as a Second Language program, cut back at least 11 other program offerings, and issued 16 layoff notices thus far. Another 40 staff and faculty positions are being cut through early retirement and unfilled vacancies.
- SFU has a chronic shortage of teaching support staff and tutorials.
- The College of New Caledonia has eliminated its forestry program, made cuts to job training and business programs and its program for students with disabilities, and is issuing at least 20 layoff notices.
- At the University of Victoria, where a 2.6% cut means a shortfall of $4.2 million, the shortfall will be made up from one-time funding available this year, and budget cuts in 2009. There has been no word if grants for grad students will be affected.
To attempt to justify the cut, the Liberal government has pointed to enrolment targets not being met by many colleges and universities. We must point out that the government caused BC's enrolment woes by doubling tuition fees, cutting BC's grants program, and allowing student debt to rise to highest in Canada outside the Maritimes, at an average of $27,000 upon graduation. With tuition fees increasing again this year to a collective $989 million, all this most recent cut achieves is forcing students to pay more for less in September, while thousands of others continue to be forced into dead-end jobs because they cannot afford an education.
British Columbians have seen this kind of pre-election ploy before. The government first starves colleges and universities of the funding that is needed to provide high-quality accessible post-secondary education. We can now expect that over the coming months, there will be numerous photo ops and press releases at universities and colleges throughout the province, as the government targets funding to achieve its political ends.
Students and British Columbians cannot accept the government playing political games with our futures. This government needs to set politics aside, and actually address the problems in BC's post-secondary education system. The Campbell government must invest in grants and reducing tuition fees in order to spur enrolment; and this government must properly fund universities and colleges as a way to build the backbone of strong communities and a strong economy.
Until enrolment declines are no longer an issue, until faculty and staff layoffs are reversed, until programs are restored, and until low- and middle-income students no longer face massive student debt, students are not going to allow this government to build a re-election platform on its education record.
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