Created 17 January 2011 15:01
The leadership campaigns of BC’s major political parties are an important moment for shaping provincial government policy.
British Columbia’s future economic and cultural prosperity depends on its citizens being well-educated, highly-skilled, and adaptable. The province’s public universities, colleges and institutes are a vital part of the strategy to position British Columbia as high skill, high wage, globally aware and sustainable economy. However, our public post-secondary institutions are being held back from exercising their full potential because of fragmented and sometimes contradictory government policy decisions.
As a first step towards articulating a more coherent post-secondary strategy for education in the province, we have come up with seven “big questions” about the future of higher education in British Columbia. These are not the only questions that need to be answered by future premiers and their governments, but the right answers to these questions would go a long way to maximizing the value added by the province’s public post-secondary institutions and would benefit the province accordingly.
- In his 2007 report for the provincial government, Campus 2020 special advisor Geoff Plant identified three broad goals for BC’s post-secondary education system: nurturing active citizenship and community engagement; leadership in knowledge discovery, creation and innovation; and ensuring British Columbians are connected, live sustainably and understand their place in and responsibilities to the world. To achieve these goals, Mr. Plant proposed three ambitious targets: the highest level of participation in post-secondary education per capita in Canada; conferring more post-secondary credentials per capita than any other province; and equalizing post-secondary participation across the province’s regions and income quartiles. Do you agree with the goals and targets proposed by Mr. Plant? If not, what would you propose in the alternative? What steps would you take to ensure continued progress towards Mr. Plant’s or your alternative goals and targets?
- At present, approximately 35% of the cost of a university education is paid for through student tuition fees, 55% through provincial government operating grants and 10% through other income. These proportions are not fixed and have changed over time as a result of stagnant or declining per student provincial government funding and increasing tuition fees. Do you believe these proportions ought to be determined by government policy? If so, what proportions would you assign to each of these funding sources? What steps would you take to ensure that per student funding is not eroded by the effects of inflation?
- British Columbia’s public universities conduct world-class research in all fields of human knowledge. Provincial government investment in university-based research has increased significantly over the past two decades, but in the past few years these investments have stalled. Stagnant and sometimes declining provincial government investments in university-based research have constrained our ability to take full advantage of the intellectual resources at our disposal. In some cases, this has resulted in professors and graduate students leaving British Columbia for better opportunities elsewhere in Canada and internationally. Do you believe that British Columbia’s public universities should conduct world-class research? If so, what steps would you take to increase the breadth and depth of high-quality research being conducted at our public universities?
- At present, there are no province-wide initiatives to support the improvement of teaching at our public universities, colleges and institutes. The Campus 2020 report recommended an annual investment equivalent to 1% of the total funding for public post-secondary education to support improvements in teaching. What province-wide measures would you implement to support teaching innovation and improvement at public post-secondary institutions?
- Education is the primary mechanism for increasing individual social and economic mobility. A greater proportion of young British Columbians make the transition to universities, colleges and institutes today than at anytime in our past. Despite this, there remain substantial barriers to young people finishing high school and making the transition to higher education. The financial barriers to accessing higher education can be substantial, but there are also significant social and cultural barriers, particularly for our Aboriginal citizens and for students who are the first in their families to seek higher education. What would you do to reduce the financial barriers to higher education? What steps would you take to identify and ameliorate other barriers to post-secondary participation?
- British Columbia’s educational reputation, natural beauty and strategic location make the province a desirable destination for international students. Although the provincial government has been supportive of public-sector and private-sector efforts to attract more international students to the province, there is no guiding policy as to what the province hopes to achieve by attracting international students, nor is there a strategy to implement such a policy. What role do you believe international students ought to play in British Columbia? What measures would you take to work towards a provincial strategy consistent with this role?
- British Columbia has a hard-earned reputation for high-quality post-secondary education. That reputation is under threat as a result of fiscal constraint at public post-secondary institutions and the expansion of middle-quality programs at private post-secondary institutions. Do you believe that British Columbia ought to strive to provide high-quality educational programs at all post-secondary institutions? If so, what steps would you take to ensure both public and private post-secondary institutions are providing high-quality educational programs?