Created 15 September 2011 01:09
Presentation Notes to the
Pre-Budget Consultations of the
Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services
September 15, 2011
Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to present to you in person.
My name is Dr. David Mirhady. I am the President of CUFA BC, the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC and the chair of the Department of Humanities at Simon Fraser University. With me is Robert Clift, our Executive Director and a doctoral candidate in higher education policy at the University of British Columbia.
CUFA BC represents 4,600 professors, librarians, and instructors at BC’s five doctoral and research-intensive universities – UBC, SFU, UVic, UNBC and Royal Roads.
Our purposes are to promote the quality of higher education and research in British Columbia and to advocate for the interests of our members. Our organization will celebrate its 40th anniversary in the coming year, and we are proud to have been agents of change in BC higher education and research throughout our history.
BC’s universities are multi-faceted institutions. Their mission is to provide instruction to undergraduate and graduate students in all fields of knowledge, to conduct original research, and to enrich the knowledge, skills and resources that support the social and economic development of our province.
Reflecting these different aspects of our mission, we’ve chosen this morning to focus on three areas: support for graduate students, ensuring a strong fiscal foundation for our institutions, and improving student access.
We appreciate the difficult fiscal and economic situation you have before you.
We also know that the Premier will soon be rolling out her plans for job creation in the province and we hope that there will be a significant educational component in those plans.
As a province, we must be competitive to attract outside investment, but that means more than just low tax rates. We must also be competitive in providing the skills, knowledge and social cohesion necessary for social and economic growth.
This means that we must invest in people and in our knowledge infrastructure so that our citizens can become more capable and more adaptable and our industries more innovative. These are not short-term investments, nor are they investments that can or should be turned on and off like a spigot. What we propose to you today are long-term, structural investments.
British Columbia is currently at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to recruiting top graduate students. Whether we are trying to keep British Columbians at home or recruit top students from elsewhere in Canada or abroad, we are hampered by insufficient financial support for graduate students.
Our universities do the best they can by offering some scholarships from internal funds, and faculty members with substantial research grants can hire graduate students to work with them.
But, unlike Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta, British Columbia does not have a provincial fellowship program to attract and retain top graduate students. These students are a necessary part of the knowledge infrastructure of our province. They assist professors in their work and bring new ideas and energy into our classrooms, labs, and research institutes. Many of them will remain in British Columbia to become the next generation of professors, researchers, highly-skilled employees, entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders.
A program comparable to Alberta’s would see 1,000 graduate students a year receive a BC Graduate Fellowship of $15,000, for a total cost of $15 million annually.
Every year that funding for higher education is frozen, our effective purchasing power falls by the rate of inflation. The so-called “protection” offered by a funding freeze may mean a slower rate of decline than other areas of government spending, but it is still an indirect cut.
These funding cuts cannot be accommodated by further imagined “efficiencies”. The universities’ quality and effectiveness are being diminished each year in order to balance the books. Rather than developing ways to teach students more effectively, we develop ways to do so more cheaply. Instead of pursuing research to advance knowledge, we pursue research contracts to bring in money.
Our members have also made sacrifices. Partial results from a survey of university faculty members currently in progress indicate that two-thirds of faculty members have increased their workloads over the past five years.
An analysis we’ve prepared of the effects of Public Sector Employers’ Council wage controls since their inception in 1994/95 demonstrates that across the board salary increases for our members have lagged behind inflation by 6.1 percentage points. A further two years of zeroes would increase that gap to 11.6 percentage points. At the same time, our colleagues in other provinces are continuing to receive wage increases to offset the effects of inflation.
These statistics, coupled with the high cost of housing in the Lower Mainland and Victoria, partially explain the difficulties in recruiting and retaining high-quality faculty members. Career progress increments once awarded to indicate successful progress in one’s career are now being reduced to a means of treading water financially.
The cost of indexing operating grants to the rate of inflation for all public post-secondary institutions amounts to $37.5 million in 2012/13.
In this Committee’s report of November 2010, it recommended that financial barriers to post-secondary education be reduced by lowering the interest rate charged on student loans and by establishing an upfront, needs-based system of student grants. This Committee also recommended funding for projects to improve the transition rates to post-secondary institutions. We support these recommendations and urge the Committee to recommit to them.
We also urge the Committee to take note of the following:
- during last spring’s federal election, a proposal to encourage savings for post-secondary education;
- during the current election in Ontario, a proposal to provide tuition fee relief to students from low and middle-income families;
- in New Brunswick, funding for pilot projects to experiment with different means to improve participation from under-represented groups;
- and similar ideas being explored in Manitoba and Newfoundland.
Clearly, there is a national consensus that we still have a ways to go to ensure that qualified students can enter post-secondary institutions, succeed, and be able to start their working lives without a mountain of debt.
It may not be possible to make large improvements in the current economic climate, but there needs to be a new commitment to students and their families to help them enter and successfully complete post-secondary education. We are certain that the student organizations and individual students you will hear from over the next month will provide you with many good ideas of how to do so.
We anticipate that one question you will ask of us in just a moment is how can BC afford these proposals?
We will leave it to others to discuss with you the merits of particular forms and levels of taxation. We will only observe that the national polling done by our colleagues at the Canadian Association of University Teachers consistently shows that Canadians are supportive of tax increases specifically tied to improving post-secondary education.
In the most recent poll conducted last April, 62% of British Columbians Agreed or Strongly Agreed with the statement “Government should invest more in universities and colleges even if that means that I personally have to pay a little more in taxes.”
We will also note that even in poor fiscal times, past governments of British Columbia have managed to make important investments in post-secondary education.
Finally, we observe that although facing a deficit itself, the federal government continues to increase its cash transfers to the provinces for post-secondary education as part of the Canada Social Transfer.
For 2011/12, that increase was $16.0 million-yet total funding for the Ministry of Advanced Education increased by only $2.5 million. In 2012/13 and 2013/14, the increases in federal transfers for post-secondary education are $16.5 million and $17.1 million, respectively, but the projected increases for Advanced Education are $9.1 million and $0. By our calculations, there is $38 million in federal funds for post-secondary education unaccounted for over this three-year budget cycle.
We will be making other recommendations and providing details of our calculations in our final written submission in a few weeks time. We hope that what we have presented this morning will provide food for thought and will be helpful to you in the weeks ahead. We welcome any questions or comments from you on these or related matters.