Created 2 October 2012 13:10
Presentation to the
2013/14 Pre-Budget Consultations of the
Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to present to you today in person. My name is Dr. Richard Kool. I am the President of CUFA BC, the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC and an Associate Professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability at Royal Roads University in Victoria.
With me is Robert Clift, CUFA BC’s Executive Director and a doctoral candidate in higher education policy at the University of British Columbia.
CUFA BC represents 4,600 professors, lecturers, instructors, librarians and other academic staff at BC’s five research-intensive and doctoral universities: UBC, SFU, UVic, UNBC, and my home institution, Royal Roads.
Our purposes are to promote quality higher education and research in British Columbia and to advocate for the interests of our members. We have been agents of change in BC higher education and research for more than 40 years.
Impact of Higher Education in BC
Before I discuss our recommendations, I want to provide you with some context on the impact of higher education in British Columbia.
We’ve provided you with a handout that has detailed information, so let me summarize.
Economically, university graduates, on average, are less likely to be unemployed, have higher annual earnings, have lower rates of absenteeism, have higher pension earnings, and are more resilient during economic downturn than workers with other levels of education. They also pay much more than the total cost of their education through income taxes over their lifetime earnings.
Now, it’s true that the economic payoff of a university education is not as large as it was two decades ago. This is a consequence of increasing tuition fees and a stagnation of incomes. But a university degree remains a competitive advantage in the job market and for certain careers it’s virtually a requirement.
But a university degree is not just an investment in a career. It’s also an investment in a better life.
University graduates are more likely to volunteer, to belong to a voluntary organization, to attend a public meeting and to be politically engaged than people without a university degree. Higher levels of education are also positively correlated with healthier lifestyles and less involvement in criminal activity.
The impact of universities goes far beyond the individual benefits. BC’s research-intensive universities are also transforming our economy and society.
Of UBC’s $10 billion annual impact on BC’s economy, about half results from its research activity. As a whole, the five research-intensive universities have about 10,000 funded research projects on the go at any given time. This culture of investigation and exploration spills over into the wider community through graduate students. A 2006 survey of graduates found that 85% of BC’s doctoral program graduates and 45% of master’s program graduates conducted research after graduation.
At his recent address to the Vancouver Board of Trade, UBC President Stephen Toope used the metaphor of post-secondary education and research as being the soil from which our economy and society grows. Our brief overview of the impact of university education and research amply demonstrates this.
As our time is limited, we’ll constrain the discussion of our recommendations to two areas: access & success, and innovation.
Access & Success
The intellectual capacity, work ethic and inquiring spirit necessary to succeed in university are not limited by social or economic background. For example, all of the Presidents of the doctoral-granting universities faculty associations, and the CUFA BC President, are people who are the first in their families to attend higher education. Nonetheless, today, people whose families are well-educated and/or well-off are disproportionately represented in BC universities.
This is because, as a province, we have not made the necessary commitment to all of our citizens to provide them with the opportunity to start and successfully complete a post-secondary program, and in that sense, I am not only talking about University education, but trades and technical education as well.
For example, the success of Aboriginal and Metis students once they reach university can be improved through institutional policies, programs, services and financial aid that support students holistically. That is, our institutions need to support their intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual needs within a context respectful of community, culture and place. There are many good examples of such efforts across the province, but there is much room for improvement. And in particular, more needs-based financial assistance is necessary to overcome the Federal governments inadequate investment in helping capable Aboriginal and Metis attend and graduate from post-secondary institutions.
When it comes to reducing financial barriers for all students, there have been successes, but we are losing ground because our efforts have not kept pace with rising costs.
A single student who receives the maximum available assistance through Student Aid BC has to live on $508 per month after paying their tuition fees. Compare this to the basic welfare rate of $610 per month. The impossibility of living on this amount of money is compounded for rural students who have to incur moving and travel costs associated with attending school in an urban center.
Nor has StudentAidBC changed its policies to reflect the increasing demand for graduate programs. Although it’s technically possible for a graduate student to receive student financial assistance, lifetime assistance limits and time limits for repayment means that StudentAidBC is ineffective in supporting graduate students.
To address these matters, we recommend:
- Increasing funding for institutional support programs and services and increased needs-based direct financial assistance for Aboriginal and Metis students
- Increasing the maximum StudentAidBC funding available to students
- Creating a StudentAidBC program to assist rural students with their extraordinary costs
- Reviewing StudentAidBC’s programs to determine how they might be modified to better suit the needs of graduate and professional students.
Governments have long made the mistake of assuming that innovation is a solitary act that can be encouraged by the right kind of grant or tax break to individual companies. The truth is that innovation takes place within a multi-dimensional web of economic, intellectual, social, institutional and regulatory forces.
The fabric of that web is people with embodied knowledge. Without these people, there are no connections, there is no innovation. These people are predominantly university graduates.
Some of these people need to have advanced research skills that can only be developed through masters and doctoral studies. Our province’s record in supporting these graduate students through direct funding and through research opportunities is a poor one. As already mentioned, StudentAidBC support for graduate studies is ineffective. BC also has the third highest tuition fees for graduate studies-last year, we were second highest. More detail on that is available on the handout we have provided.
But it’s not enough to simply loan graduate students money. There is intense national and international competition for top-notch graduate students and BC lags behind other provinces in not providing any sort of graduate fellowship program to help attract graduate students to our universities and keep BC graduate students at home. We routinely lose students to Alberta, Ontario and Quebec universities, who can offer provincial graduate fellowships.
We also lose promising graduate students because we don’t provide them with enough opportunities for engaging in research. BC universities are very successful in obtaining research grants from the federal granting councils, but other provinces provide additional support in key research areas.
Of concern to us is that BC used to be a leader in funding forest science research, but this funding disappeared entirely in 2010. We have a strong reputation for health sciences research, but lack of stable and predictable funding for the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research limits our ability to follow emerging fields of inquiry. We want to become a leader in “green” technologies and sustainability research, but money that could be used to develop such work is being drained away from our universities through the carbon tax.
To address these matters, we recommend:
- Creating a BC Graduate Fellowship Program
- Re-establishing the BC Forest Science Program to support forest and ecosystem research
- Guaranteeing stable and predictable funding for the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research
- While we support and indeed see as necessary a carbon tax, we recommend permitting public post-secondary institutions to use their Carbon Tax payments to fund research and development in “green” technologies and relevant sustainability research initiatives
Overarching these recommendations and the additional recommendations we will make in our written submission is the need to ensure the public post-secondary institutions have stable and predictable funding.
You can imagine our shock when the 2012 budget documents included projected budget cuts in 2013/14 and 2014/15. This, after years of stagnant funding. The assertion that these cuts can be realized through administrative savings without affecting students is not defensible.
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.