Getting Past the Spin on Post-Secondary Funding

Created 27 April 2009 11:04

By Dr. Paul Bowles

April 27, 2009

When the BC political party leaders debated each other on the radio last week it was no surprise that the economy dominated the discussion. But it was a surprise that neither of the two main party leaders, Gordon Campbell or Carole James, mentioned post-secondary education, especially as both have recognized the importance of this sector to the future economic prosperity of the province.

At next week’s televised leader’s debate they will have another chance. What is the main issue? Well, first you have to get past the spin. Both parties make nice sounding commitments but are short on specifics. The Liberals, since they are running on their record, provide some figures that, unfortunately, are misleading. A good example is their statement that between 2000/01 and 2011/12 funding for post-secondary institutions will have increased by 76 per cent. But that’s only true if you include the 145 per cent increase in tuition fee revenue which comes out of the pockets of students and their parents and not from the government.

Much more to the point is that the number of inflation-adjusted dollars provided by the provincial government to public post-secondary institutions per full-time student will have fallen by 8.8 per cent during that time period. That’s right, for all the spin, the province’s public universities and colleges receive a significantly fewer real dollars per student from the provincial government than they did eight years ago. And it fell under the eight years of the NDP administration before that.

There has been a long run trend of declining funding per student in real terms. That’s why professors across the province are more concerned than ever about educational quality and cutbacks to programs. And that’s why it should be a part of any election debate.

Dr. Paul Bowles is a Professor of Economics at the University of Northern British Columbia and President of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia. He is also a past member of the Economic Forecast Council of BC.

Advanced Education Financial Statistics (Excel /PDF)