- 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
Election 2005 - Looking Back, Looking Forward - June 2, 2005
- Published on Tuesday, 11 July 2006 12:58
- Written by Norma Wieland
Election 2005 - Looking Back and Looking Forward
Thursday, June 2, 2005
by Norma Wieland, President, CUFA/BC
The results of the 2005 BC provincial election mean Premier Gordon Campbell and his BC Liberal Party will have another four years to pursue their vision for the future of the province. The voters also returned a revitalized New Democratic Party under the leadership of Carole James to form a significant opposition in the provincial legislature. Throughout the campaign, both these parties (as well as the Greens) emphasized the importance of post-secondary education, but what do the election promises really mean and what does the future hold for BC's public universities?
In the lead up to the provincial election Premier Campbell placed considerable emphasis on post-secondary education. In the February 2004 Throne Speech, he committed to adding 25,000 post-secondary spaces to the public system by 2010. When it was pointed out that creating spaces also involved fully funding them, he allocated more money in the budget plan for 2005/06 (but unfortunately, still not enough). The Liberal government also created new universities in Kamloops and Kelowna by transforming existing university-colleges. In the weeks leading up to this election, the Premier toured the province announcing new buildings and other facilities for universities, colleges and institutes.
NDP leader Carole James focused her promises on her core constituency: a tuition freeze for students, new funding for a revitalized trades training system, and restoration of the student grant program cut by the Liberals in their 2004 budget. It was also apparently her intention, although not trumpeted in the campaign literature, to follow through on the Campbell government promise to add more seats to the public post-secondary education system between now and 2010.
Where these differences may have resulted in an interesting debate between the parties on the priorities for the province's universities, colleges and institutes, the leaders chose instead to focus on specific election "angles." Carole James attacked Campbell for allowing tuition fees to double and cutting grants for needy students, and Campbell blamed the previous NDP government's five-year tuition fee freeze for all the problems in the post-secondary system.
To reduce the positions of the parties to their core messages, Campbell was telling British Columbians that he knows they want a university education for their children, and James was telling British Columbians that trades are important and that she understands that many families are having trouble paying for college and university. So, who's right? They both are.
Although the new student spaces created last year and this year have begun to reduce the number of qualified high school graduates turned away from the public universities, at the same time, the public colleges and university colleges are having trouble filling all their available spaces. Apparently this is because tuition fees and living costs have risen beyond the ability to pay for families outside the Lower Mainland and Southern Vancouver Island. Moreover, changes to apprenticeship education apparently have resulted in confusion and lower demand for apprenticeship programs at a time the province is desperately in need of skilled tradespeople (the Liberal government claims the number of apprentices is at an all-time high, while the BC Federation of Labour claims the provincial government has changed its method of counting and there has actually been a drop).
While both parties had some of the right answers, their platforms fell short on others. Despite the Liberal promises of new funding, they continue to let real dollar per student funding drop. By capping tuition fee increases they have constrained university budgets, and their plans for improvements for student financial assistance remain vague. The NDP, meanwhile, failed to address the problems in the Liberal funding plan -- a plan they have tacitly accepted -- and they have no sustainable plan for dealing with the affordability of higher education. Both parties said little about two key issues for the universities: research and graduate education.
So, where do we go from here? Campbell's plan to expand the number of student spaces will proceed apace. At the same time, though, he will continue to be pressured to fully fund his plan. This means not just replacement funding for capped tuition fees, but also inflationary increases for existing base operating grants. There will also be increased pressure on the government from colleges and university colleges outside of the Lower Mainland and Victoria to deal with their difficulties in filling the new seats. With their much larger numbers in the Legislature, the NDP will vigorously pursue the Liberals on the issue of affordability, and probably concentrate a great deal of criticism on the apprenticeship system.
In the universities, CUFA/BC and the University Presidents' Council will continue to lobby for vital increases in base operating grants, and try to bring both government and the opposition to a new understanding about the importance of graduate education and research. CUFA/BC will continue to act as watchdog over the still young degree approval process for private and out-of-province institutions, and encourage a more systematic and reasoned approach to dealing with the problem of providing sufficient financial assistance to students.
What does all of this add up to in the end? With any luck, it will mean that government will take on its fair share for funding the public post-secondary system, that financial barriers for qualified students will continue to be eased, and that both the Liberals and the NDP will understand that importance of those distinct features of a university, research and graduate education. If we don't manage to achieve these goals, it will mean reduced education quality, disenfranchised students, and a stifling of the province's capacity for innovation.
It will be a busy four years.