[Ian Glover / Flickr]
BC’s Finance Minister Mike de Jong may have characterized his recent budget as “boring, balanced,” and “the right plan for British Columbia,” but critics are slamming it as a wrong and misguided plan for post-secondary education in the province.
“Over the next three years the total operating grant transferred to post-secondary institutions will drop by almost $50 million,” said Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC.
Oliver warned that the trend in underfunding post-secondary education has been a decade-long pattern with per-student operating grants continuing to fall in both absolute and relative terms.
“By 2016, real per-student operating grants will have dropped by more than 20 per cent since 2001, when the BC liberals took office and began to overhaul the core funding that our institutions receive from the provincial treasury,” she said.
“It’s hard to see how the government hopes to achieve the opportunities in post-secondary education with the funding regime it’s implementing with this budget.”
Robert Clift, executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC, said the budget shortchanges students and their families at a time when government should be increasing investment in universities and research.
He said the province is suffering an “exodus of top talent” because it doesn’t fund a graduate fellowship program like the ones that exist in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba.
“They offer scholarships or fellowships to graduate students of high caliber. It’s used as a financial incentive to attract top students from elsewhere, and keep the best and brightest at home,” he said.
While government projections indicate a “steady and dramatic” rise in international student enrolment — from a current number of about 100,000 to 140,000 by 2016 — the number of funded spaces in BC institutions will drop in the same time period, from 206,000 to 201,000.
Those numbers, coupled with sky-rocketing tuition fees, point inevitably to an “affordability and access crunch,” warns Oliver.
Tuition fee revenues are projected to rise by more than $100 million over the next three years. “Affordability continues to be a major challenge for BC post-secondary students,” Oliver said.
Jenelle Davies, BC chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, called the Feb. 17 budget disappointing because it failed to put forward a plan to improve accessibility and affordability of post-secondary education.
“Students in BC graduate with the highest average student debt in the country … a decade of tuition fee increases and funding cuts has shown the government is not willing to commit the resources or provide a plan to reduce student debt,” she said. “Budget 2014 puts post-secondary education further out of reach for BC’s young people.”
Students are calling for increased funding for colleges and universities, a reduction in tuition fees, the elimination of interest charged on student loans and the reintroduction of a needs-based grants program.
“BC provides the lowest amount of non-repayable financial aid of any province,” Davies said. “Students are only able to rely on student loans for financial assistance, and the interest charged on those loans is the highest in the country.”