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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2007

B.C. Report Raises Issues for All of Us

By Cindy Oliver
In early May, the government of British Columbia released a major review of post-secondary education. The report, titled “Access and Excellence: The Campus 2020 Plan for British Columbia’s Post-Secondary Education System,”1 marks an important admission that the province’s last six years of policy and funding choices have not worked.

The Campus 2020 review was led by Geoff Plant, the province’s attorney general during the first term of the B.C. Liberal government. The choice of Plant to lead this initiative raised serious questions about the extent to which he could be objective enough. After all, he was part of the same cabinet that approved the changes that, six years later, have proven to be a dismal failure.

To Plant’s credit, the report does acknowledge many of the problems created by his government’s transformation of the system. Adult basic education programs should be tuition-free, according to the report, a point educators have been pressing the government on for many years. The report also acknowledges that the current system of “self regulation” for private colleges and training institutes is creating hardship for students and reputational damage for the province’s entire post-secondary education system. The report found that the so-called “new model” for trades training and apprenticeship has failed to deliver on one of the most basic measures — completion rates and recommends an independent review of the agency charged with trades training to try and get those measures back on track.

While the report’s acknowledgement of problems in post-secondary education is encouraging, it fails to deliver on workable, sensible and equitable solutions. Plant is unwilling to fully concede that affordability is a major barrier for students. That’s a disappointing outcome, given the skyrocketing tuition fees and the tremendous increase in student debt levels. The report defends high tuition fees and goes so far as to recommend that the current inflation tuition cap mechanism should be changed, a move that would see tuition fees outpace the rate of inflation.

The report does make some important comments on governance and recommends a more coordinated and system-wide approach. Unfortunately, the report’s governance model leans more towards exclusive than inclusive. In Plant’s view, the most significant decision-making element in his new model — the Higher Education Presidents’ Council — would be comprised of senior administrators, but no one else. Faculty, students and community input would not be incorporated in this new council.

Plant made 52 recommendations in his final report. Some would involve legislative change, others budgetary and still more would require major policy shifts. Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell says he intends to study the report in some detail. Implementation of any or all recommendations isn’t likely until the spring 2008 legislative session.

The intervening months have to be used to ensure the provincial government addresses the problems identified in this report with solutions that resolve the twin issues of affordability and access. We must play a central role in that effort — continuing to work with partners and allies who share our concerns and support our call for a post-secondary system that works for everyone. If we are successful in B.C., it can have beneficial effects in other provinces where academic staff and student associations are confronting problems of affordability and access stemming from provincial government policies.

1. A copy of the report is available online at

Cindy Oliver is president of the Federation of Post-secondary Educators of British Columbia and a member-at-large of the CAUT Executive Committee.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily CAUT.

Commentary: CAUT welcomes articles between 800 and 1,500 words on contemporary issues directly related to post-secondary education. Articles should not deal with personal grievance cases nor with purely local issues. They should not be libellous or defamatory, abusive of individuals or groups, and should not make unsubstantiated allegations. They should be objective and on a political rather than a personal subject. A commentary is an opinion and not a “life story.” First person is not normally used. Articles may be in English or French, but will not be translated. Publication is at the sole discretion of CAUT. Commentary authors will be contacted only if their articles are accepted for publication. Commentary submissions should be sent to Liza Duhaime.

Les opinions exprimées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement la position officielle de l’ACPPU.

Commentaires destinés à la rubrique Tribune libre : L’ACPPU invite les lecteurs à soumettre des articles de 800 à 1 500 mots qui portent sur des questions d’actualité liées directement à l’enseignement postsecondaire. Les articles ne doivent traiter ni de dossiers de griefs particuliers ni de questions d’intérêt strictement local. Ils ne doivent pas comporter des allégations non fondées ni des propos diffamants, calomniateurs ou offensants envers des personnes ou des groupes. Les articles doivent être empreints d’une objectivité totale et aborder des sujets de nature politique plutôt que personnelle. Un commentaire est avant tout l’expression d’une opinion et non pas le « récit d’une vie ». Il convient normalement de le formuler à la première personne. Les articles peuvent être soumis en français ou en anglais, mais ils ne seront pas traduits. L'ACPPU se réserve le droit de choisir les articles qui seront publiés. La rédaction ne communiquera avec les auteurs de commentaires que si elle décide de publier leurs articles. Les commentaires doivent être envoyés à Liza Duhaime.