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Vancouver Sun Editorial

Vancouver Sun Editorial

Greetings Again Dear Readers,

No, I did not fall into an inter-dimensional rift. Rather, those other projects I referred to in my last post have been voracious in their consumption of my time. On top of that I'm in Kamloops today, heading on to Banff tomorrow. Nonetheless, I endure the agony of a dial-up Internet connection to bring you news and commentary (cue the violins :) ).

I'll get back to the last part of that private post-secondary education series tonight. This morning, I'll talk briefly about an excerpt from the editorial in the Friday edition of the Vancouver Sun.

Friday's editorial was about education issues in this election campaign. Althought primarily focussed on K-12 issues, there was a section on post-secondary education:

At the post-secondary level, the Liberals have reacted to the dismal state of access to B.C.'s colleges and universities by increasing capacity, including adding badly needed spaces to train doctors and nurses. They are now promising a total of 25,000 new spaces by 2010.

In the short term, however, the most noticeable change for students was the sharp rise in tuition fees over the past couple of years.

That's because the Liberals chose to allow fees to float to their natural level after being frozen for six years under the NDP. But as the Liberal government approached the election, it caught many educational institutions by surprise when it took back the power it had given them to control their own tuition fees.

The Liberals inexplicably froze fees again, allowing individual institutions only the discretion to cover the cost of inflation. It was clearly a political decision that must be revisited.

The NDP is promising to freeze tuition outright and to cover the cost of inflation with increased funding from the province.

The Greens are promising to reduce fees by five per cent this year as part of a long-term plan to provide free post-secondary education.

Of course, there is no such thing as free education. So tuition fees must eventually rise to a level where they are roughly equivalent to the average of other provinces.

If not, our institutions will decline to the state they were in 2001, when students were taking five years to complete a four-year course because they could not get the courses they needed to graduate.

Let's learn from our past mistakes, not repeat them.

Regular readers will know that there is much to be said about this editorial, but let me start with the response from CUFA/BC.

Our response focussed on the so-called "natural level" of tuition fees. In a letter sent in on Friday, but not yet published, CUFA/BC president Norma Wieland wrote:

Contrary to the beliefs of the Sun's editorial writers, there is no such thing as a "natural level" for university and college tuition fees. Tuition fee levels are the result of the interplay between various forces, the most important of which is how much money the provincial government is willing to invest in higher education.

Let's be clear, fee increases greater than the rate of inflation are the result of government underfunding, and in this respect both the current government and the previous government have let us down.

Unfortunately, the major party platforms provide little relief since they have all committed to creating more student spaces, while allowing real dollar per student funding to continue to drop.

New student spaces are sorely needed, but unless sufficient funding is provided by government, it will result in a decrease in educational quality and/or further increases in tuition fees -- there is no other outcome.

Norma Wieland, President
Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC

Our colleagues at the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators also responded with a letter, also unpublished as of today:

Your editorial about education manages to sidestep some pretty important facts.

The government's enrolment growth target in BC's colleges, university colleges and institutes was 4800 new spaces between 2001/2 and 2003/4, but only about 1300 of those spaces were filled - less than one-third. Is this the performance that we can expect of the much touted 25,000 new spaces? Will we see less than one-third of those spaces actually being filled because of inadequate government funding to institutions and very high costs for students?

Year over year enrolment actually declined in ten college sector institutions last year. How, by any measure, is that a success, especially when we know our population needs more post-secondary education? The BC Liberal policy of under funding colleges and universities and allowing tuition fees to double has been a dismal failure in terms of access and your editorial might have addressed this had it dealt with the facts, rather than Liberal Party rhetoric.

Cindy Oliver, President
Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC

I'll add my own gripe about the second-to-last paragraph of the editorial. Despite the fact that degree-completion times were a hot topic in the lead-up to the 2001 election, there was no credible evidence then about changes in degree-completion time, and there is no credible evidence today. So, suggestions that the NDP's platform will result in longer degree completion times is utter hogwash.

Moreover, anecdotal evidence I've collected suggests to me that the largest impediment to timely degree completion today is the cost of attending. Students are taking reduced courseloads so that they can work longer hours to pay for their educational costs.

Don't get me wrong, the NDP had their own problems with post-secondary policy when they were in government, and goodness knows there are problems with their current platform. However, this assertion in the Sun editorial that election of a NDP government will lead to longer degree completion times is scaremongering, plain and simple.

I guess that's the thing that disappoints me most, but does not surprise me, about this election campaign. The amount of scaremongering by the Liberal Party and their supporters has certainly got in the way of meaningful discussion about the issues. In the same vein, the NDP strategy of trying to focus all their criticism on Gordon Campbell because his popularity runs behind the Liberal Party's popularity, may be effective, but it too brings down the level or political discussion.

On that morose note, remember that tomorrow is election day. Polls are open from 8am to 8pm, and you have to have 4 clear hours in which to exercise your vote. So, if you don't have enough time to vote before getting to work tomorrow, your boss has to let you out at 4pm so you can consider your options and do your democractic duty.

Cheers!

Rob

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