CUFA BC Presentation to 2008 Pre-Budget Consultations

Created 29 September 2008 05:09

Robert Clift’s Presentation Notes
Pre-Budget Consultations
September 29, 2008

Good Morning.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today as you consider your recommendations on the budget priorities for 2009.

My name is Robert Clift. I’m the Executive Director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia. We represent 4,600 professors, instructors, librarians and other academic staff at UBC, SFU, UVic, UNBC and Royal Roads University.

I’m also a doctoral student at UBC and published author on higher education policy in Canada.

I bring regrets from our President, Dr. Paul Bowles, who was unable to travel here today from Prince George. I know some of you will have heard from him last year when he made a presentation on behalf of the UNBC Faculty Association.

The higher education system in British Columbia is in transition. Over the past 40 years, the system has evolved from a small, selective enterprise, based primarily in the Lower Mainland, to a broadly accessible and diverse network of universities, colleges and institutes located around the province serving both British Columbians and students from abroad.

We are moving towards what scholars of higher education call a “massified” system of higher education. Over half of high school graduates make an immediate transition to post-secondary education, and another 20% will make the transition within four years of graduation. This is almost double the rate of post-secondary transition of 20 years ago.

Both this government and the previous government have contributed to huge strides in improving access to higher education in this province. It is an achievement which will serve all British Columbians as it provides the basis for the Province to effectively compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.

This rapid expansion has not been without its problems, however. Despite large increases from government in overall funding for post-secondary institutions, our per student funding levels are still slipping.

The challenge is to ensure that the new broad based, more accessible post-secondary education sector is provided with sufficient resources to match the expectations placed upon it and which maintains the high quality which the selective system of 20 years ago provided.

We have a disagreement with Minister Coell as to whether total government funding has increased by 40% since 2001. Our calculations based on government documents reporting actual spending, rather than estimates, show a 24% increase. I’ve attached to your package detailed calculations and can discuss those later if you’d like.

What is clear is that since 2001 the number of full time equivalent students has increased by 26% and inflation has increased by almost 17%. So, in order just to keep pace with the growth in student numbers and the erosion of purchasing power, funding would have had to increase by 43% since 2001.

This doesn’t take into account the fact that university costs — like books, journals and scientific equipment – increase at a faster rate than general consumer prices. Often the gap is as much as two percentage points per year.

In 2005, when government limited tuition fees increases to the rate of inflation of consumer prices, there was an implicit agreement that government would also increase its share of funding by at least this rate of inflation. Unfortunately, this has not happened.

If you would look at the graph on the second page of the package I’ve provided, you can see that the red bars, which represent per student funding adjusted for inflation, have generally slipped over the past 8 years.

I know others have told you about the effects this underfunding is having on post-secondary institutions and so I won’t recount those stories here. What I will talk about briefly is a lost opportunity for British Columbia.

Between 1994 and 2006, the provincial government provided virtually no money to fund new graduate student spaces at our universities. We are grateful this changed with the 2007 budget, and that this funding was made on-going with the 2008 budget.

We are also happy that in 2007 government acted upon our long-standing recommendation to establish a provincial scholarship program for graduate students.

Although we have made progress in this respect, our neighbours in Alberta have made much greater progress through aggressive recruiting of top-flight researchers and the development of the next generation of researchers through a substantial graduate student scholarship program.

Where our program provides about 250 scholarships per year valued at $10,000, the Alberta program provides 1,000 scholarships per year worth up to $15,000. Also, the Alberta program provides scholarships for about 10% of its graduate students; our program provides scholarships for about 2%.

In earlier years, when per student funding was at higher levels, the universities had the capacity to offer scholarships and fellowships from institutional funds to a larger proportion of graduate students than is the case today.

We do the best with the government and private money we have, but there are a great many potential future leaders in our graduate programs who are not receiving any financial support from us.

This means that we lose out in recruiting top students from across the country, and we lose out when British Columbians are enticed to better funded universities elsewhere in Canada and internationally.

Our written submission will be ready in about two weeks and we will go into these matters in more detail in that document. At this time, we make six preliminary recommendations to you, as you will see from the top sheet of the package we’ve provided. These are:

1. Immediately restore the 2.6% reduction in the 2007/08 base budgets for public post-secondary institutions.

2. Increase average per FTE funding by at least the rate of growth in the Consumer Price Index for 2009/10 onwards.

3. For each new full-time equivalent (FTE) student space mandated by government, provide at least the average per FTE funding for the previous year adjusted for inflation. New graduate student and specialty programs spaces will be funded at approximately double the average per FTE funding.

4. Restore real per FTE student funding to 2001/02 levels

5. Increase the value of the Pacific Century Graduate Scholarship from $10,000 to $10,800 for Master’s students and $15,000 for Doctoral students to match the Province of Alberta.


6. Increase the number of Pacific Century Graduate Scholarships from 250 per year to 1,250 per year to match Province of Alberta’s target of one scholarship for every 10 graduate students.

We will make additional recommendations in our written submission. But these six will be our primary recommendations.

Our universities are irreplaceable sources of innovation and creativity to the Province and vital institutions for securing our social and economic futures.

The challenge the government faces is to speedily fix the on-going problems with funding stability and graduate student support so that we can get back to working towards a mass system of higher education that is accessible to and serves the diverse needs of all British Columbians.

Thank you. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Summary Table on Government Funding per FTE Student
Chart on Government Funding per FTE Student