While BC Finance Minister Mike de Jong may have characterized his Feb. 17 budget as having scored a “fiscal hat trick,” for the third consecutive set of balanced books from the governing Liberals, he’s acquired plenty of detractors quick to condemn the plan as a mirage of user fee hikes and tax cuts over much-needed investments in post-secondary education.
“When inflationary pressures and the recent cuts to university budgets are accounted for, there has been a cumulative cut of more than 15 per cent to core operating budgets over the past 12 years,” said Doug Baer, president of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC.
He warns it’s an illusion to believe it’s possible to maintain the quality of higher education with this funding trend.
“BC needs to take a leadership role in recruiting and retaining excellent faculty and graduate students. Instead we are seeing de facto cuts to core funding and no policy initiatives whatsoever to promote and develop research excellence at our universities,” said Baer.
A central finding in this year’s provincial budget revealed through analysis by the Federation of Post-secondary Educators confirms operating grants for post-secondary education will suffer another $14 million cut this year, while student enrolments are forecast to decline by three per cent from 207,000 in 2013–2014 to 201,000 full-time equivalents in 2015–2016.
“Yet tuition fee revenues are estimated to increase by more than 13 per cent in this budget,” said FPSE president Cindy Oliver, “making affordable access to education opportunities harder and harder for today’s students.”
She also cast the financial barriers as at odds with the government’s Jobs Plan priorities to improve skills and learning opportunities.
Students slammed the Liberals for the increases in post-secondary fees.
Zach Crispin, chair of the BC chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students, said students were already angered before the latest budget announcement of further hikes, when the government reversed its position on free adult basic education in December.
The provision of cost-free upgrading programs such as language training is estimated at less than $20 million across the entire province, Crispin said.
“At the end of the day, this was a small cost for the province,” he said. “BC has a budget surplus. There is simply no justification for cutting funding to basic education and asking students and families to pay more.”
The Liberal government holds firm that only fiscal discipline and prudent budgeting will continue to keep the province in the black, forecasting modest surpluses in each of the next three years.
Yet the government will eliminate the surtax for people making more than $150,000 a year, said Baer, costing over $200 million in foregone tax revenues.
“In an economic climate in which post-secondary education is increasingly important, the elimination of a tax for the richest British Columbians is simply the wrong choice,” he said.