CUFA BC Communique on Budget Cuts

Created 28 March 2008 18:03

Dear Colleagues,

As you will have seen in the media last week (March 20th), the provincial government has told the public post-secondary institutions that operating grants for the 2008/09 budget year will be less than expected. Overall, it looks like the decrease amounts to about $50 million across the system, of which $24 million will come out of the allocations for the six public universities (UBC, SFU, UVic, UNBC, TRU and RRU). The actual value of the cuts is still not clear because there are several ways to measure it and government hasn’t been very forthcoming yet on the figures.

The media reports last week indicated that these cuts were made to the universities to reallocate funds to the colleges. There is a small grain of truth to this. It certainly is the case that the universities will receive funding for about 450 fewer FTE student spaces than originally planned. This is because these spaces are being reallocated to programs the government has determined are of higher priority, most of which are located in the colleges.

It’s important to understand that this reallocation is separate from 2.6% cut to operating grants that all public post-secondary institutions were given. If the universities are directed to create fewer new student spaces and given proportionately less new funding for that purpose, this does not itself trigger a budget crisis (although it does cause other problems, especially when the news comes so late in the day). The larger problem is in the 2.6% cut to all public post-secondary institutions, with no attendant cut in the expectations of the number of students we are to serve.  The timing of the announcement compounds the problem since early admission offers have already gone out to potential students and it may not now be possible to reduce the number of spaces for the coming year.

Why is this cut taking place? The answer we’ve received from government is that all ministries are being asked to tighten their belts in response to fiscal uncertainty caused by the meltdown in the US housing market and the attendant ripples throughout the global economy. (One might question the wisdom of the billions of dollars of tax cuts that have taken place over the past few years and also the $440 million cost of the Climate Action Dividend in light of this economic uncertainty, but we will leave it to others to ask those questions.) There is also the on-going difficulty caused by ever increasing funds required for the health care budget.

However, since government budgets are about choosing priorities, what this cut really represents is that government believes post-secondary education is of a lower priority than other areas of government spending. This is a troubling development, to say the least.

We are also concerned that this cut might represent an undercurrent of anti-academic sentiment in the sense that academic education is seen by some politicians to be less “useful” than vocational or career education.

These cuts and CUFA BC’s response consumed several hours of discussion at the CUFA BC Council meeting on March 26th & 27th. On the evening of the 26th we also had an emergency meeting with the Minister of Advanced Education, Murray Coell, and during lunch on the 27th we had an emergency meeting with Opposition Critic for Advanced Education, Rob Fleming. In addition, we have been in regular contact with the University President’s Council and officials in the Ministry of Advanced Education.

We still hold out a small hope that these cuts might be reversed or mitigated in some fashion, but that hope diminishes with each passing day.

The debate on the budget estimates for the Ministry of Advanced Education is anticipated to commence the week of March 31st, at which point we expect that Rob Fleming will come down very hard on the government over these cuts. We have provided questions to Mr. Fleming that we would like answered during the estimates debate, as we know have other stakeholders in the post-secondary sector. We will distribute the information from that estimates debate to your faculty association when it becomes available.

As this is a problem for all of our universities, CUFA BC is also looking at what we can do so that we don’t go back to the bad old days of annual budget cuts. In the lead up to the next provincial election, on May 12, 2009, we are working on a campaign strategy that will include elements of promoting the value and necessity of university education, as well as identifying the shortcomings of government policies. We are going to make it clear to the public and to the politicians that cutting university budgets is a large step backwards in the economic and social development of our province.

One way in which you can assist our efforts is to tell us your story of how declining budgets are affecting your students. We have reams of statistics, but our arguments are far more persuasive with the politicians and the public when we have the personal stories to give a human face to the numbers. Also consider sending letters to your MLAs and to local newspapers. Individually, these may appear to have little impact, but they will help in creating an environment hostile to future funding cuts.

You will probably not see the public manifestation of CUFA BC’s campaign until the fall, however, which is when government will start deliberating on its priorities for the 2009 provincial budget. In the meantime, we will be continuing with our behind the scenes work to prepare for the campaign and otherwise keep the issue alive within government.  We will keep your faculty association informed of developments.

If you have questions or suggestions for us, please contact us at [email protected]


Chris Petter
Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia