- Pre-Election Letter to CUFA BC Members - May 10, 2013
- Professors Support NDP Proposal on Needs-Based Student Grants, but Say More Still Can Be Done - April 23, 2013
- CUFA BC Releases E-Book on Academic Governance - April 10, 2013
- UBC-O, UNBC and SFU Professors to be Honoured for Using Their Research in Service of the Community - April 3, 2013
#11 - Measuring Progress - May 8, 2009
- Published on Friday, 08 May 2009 07:35
- Written by Robert Clift
Varying Degrees 2009 – Issue #11
by Robert Clift
May 8, 2009
In issue #9 of this blog, I looked at the Liberal party claim that they have been responsible for “the largest post-secondary expansion in 40 years." By analyzing the growth in number of full-time equivalent (FTE) student spaces during the NDP years in government and the Liberal years in government, I was able to show that, in terms of student numbers, the expansion of the public post-secondary education system was about the same under both governments.
A loyal reader of this blog contacted me after I published this analysis to make the comment that growth in student numbers is not the only way to measure progress in the development of the public post-secondary education system. What about funding levels? What about support for research? the reader asked.
I don’t have good system-level data for post-secondary funding during the NDP years, but I do have information about the government operating grants provided to the research-intensive universities. Although my data for the NDP years is not directly comparable to my data for the Liberal years, I can say that inflation-adjusted per-FTE university student funding decreased significantly during the NDP years whereas this same funding dropped and then recovered during the Liberal years.
As for support for research, the NDP created the BC Knowledge Development Fund (BC KDF), which was critically important in ensuring BC universities received funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The NDP also provided funding to establish the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. On the down side, funding for new graduate student spaces virtually collapsed during the NDP government.
The Liberals have maintained BC KDF and made investments in other research initiatives, like the Regional Innovation Chairs program and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. The Liberals, after some delay, also started funding new graduate student spaces. But at the same time, the Liberals appear prepared to kill off the Forest Science Program, the only significant source of funding for forestry research in BC. Also, the suspension of the Pacific Leaders Graduate Fellowship program doesn’t bode well.
On the cost of higher education to students, the NDP froze tuition fees and made improvements to student financial aid. They did not, however, provide enough compensation to public post-secondary institutions in lieu of tuition fee increases, which was a significant factor in tuition fees rising dramatically when the Liberals removed the freeze.
During the Liberals’ time in government, tuition fees have risen significantly more than they would have had the NDP never frozen the fees in the first place. Moreover, the amount of non-repayable student financial assistance system has decreased under the Liberals such that BC students have amongst the highest student loan debt loads in the country.
So, how does one measure progress in the development of the public post-secondary education system? The Liberals would have you look at the growth in the number of student spaces and the growth in overall funding (instead of operating grants per FTE student). The NDP would want you to look at the affordability of higher education. The Greens would have you consider how much training and research is taking place with respect to “green” technologies.
In the end, progress should be a matter of increasing educational quality. It’s not good enough to simply educate more students, we have to give them an education that’s worth having -- an education that should be better than the one their parents may have received. Unfortunately, quality is an area where we have only loose proxy measures. However, given the decrease in inflation-adjusted funding per FTE university student which occurred under the NDP and the stagnation of this funding under the Liberals, it is a sobering thought that the quality of higher education has suffered in BC for the past two decades.
More on SFU Candidates’ Debate
The Tyee did a story on the May 6th SFU candidates’ debate. It’s worth a read:
A Student Guide to the Election
The Simon Fraser Student Society has published an informative election guide for students, which includes responses from the three major parties to a questionnaire on post-secondary education and other student issues. It’s available at:
Advance Polling Closes on Saturday at 8pm
If you want to vote early in the provincial election, you have until 8pm tomorrow to do so. Information about where you can advance vote is on the yellow voter card you received in the mail. If you aren't registered to vote or haven't received a yellow voter card, go to the Elections BC website for the necessary information:
BC Needs Universities
Want to read archived copies of this blog or want more information on university issues in the 2009 provincial election? Visit the BC Needs Universities website at http://www.bcneedsuniversities.ca
Unless indicated otherwise, the opinions expressed in this blog are Robert Clift's personal opinions and not necessarily those of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia, its member faculty associations or any other person or organization.