University Faculty Respond to 2020 BC Budget

Created 18 February 2020 13:02

Victoria, February 18, 2020 – BC Finance Minister Hon. Carole James tabled the 2020 Budget and Fiscal Plan “A Balanced Plan to Keep BC Moving Forward.” This is the NDP government’s third full budget under Premier John Horgan, and includes continued investments in children and families, housing, and sustainable economic development. The budget also provides increased support and housing for post-secondary students, which CUFA BC applauds.

One highlight in the budget is the Access Grant commitment of $24 million over three years to improve accessibility and affordability of post-secondary education, which has also been expanded to include certificate and diploma programs. The government anticipates this up-front, needs-based student grant program to support more than 40,000 students once it comes into effect in September 2020. With increased supports to students, CUFA BC remains confident that faculty members will have better opportunities for recruiting students into their research programs.

Another budget highlight is the expansion of the post-secondary technology programming to increase funding to reach $42 million annually by 2022/23. Once complete, this six-year expansion plan will result in 2,900 new post-secondary spaces in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The 2020 budget continues the investments that were in place from previous years without adding much in the way of ‘new funding’ to advanced education. The Horgan government, however, has maintained a stable and predictable budget for advanced education. This is a welcome commitment from government that will foster long-term planning for our research institutions. CUFA BC is committed to addressing the ongoing needs of faculty, such as precarious employment or investment in research supports for non-STEM disciplines and will continue to advocate on these issues.

The budget includes targeted funding for student housing capital investments for $104 million at Simon Fraser University Burnaby Campus and $201 million at the University of Victoria and $25 million at University of British Columbia Okanagan campus.

The Knowledge Development Fund will fund special projects, including $17 million for specialized equipment to expand the CEDAR supercomputer located at SFU’s Burnaby campus, $19 million at SFU (Burnaby) and UBC (Vancouver) for specialized equipment to develop the first quantum computer, and $6 million for equipment for the Northern Cascadia Subduction Zone Observatory led by the University of Victoria.

Absent from today’s budget is any additional funding for the government’s graduate scholarship program, which was created in 2018. The program primarily targets STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) master’s and doctoral students, and at $12 million dollars to date, this amount falls short of the NDP’s 2017 campaign promise for $50 million in graduate scholarships.

The 2020 Budget Consultation report highlighted several recommendations made by CUFA BC, though few of them are reflected in the 2020 provincial budget. Specifically, CUFA BC recommended the following:

  1. Redressing the chronic underfunding of post-secondary institutions in BC, including the concomitant issues of precarious employment.
  2. Providing greater institutional autonomy to universities by excluding research universities from the controls of the Public Sector Employers’ Council.
  3. Following through on the fifty-million-dollar government commitment to graduate scholarship program and expansion to include non-STEM disciplines.
  4. Redesigning the Knowledge Development Fund program to a system of arms’-length peer-reviewed grants for research that addresses the most pressing social, economic, cultural, and environmental challenges.

“While today’s budget includes significant investment in BC families and sustainable economic growth, it offers little support for faculty at BC’s research universities and narrows the scope of funding to STEM disciplines to the exclusion of others,” notes Professor Jim Johnson, CUFA BC Past President.

“We certainly welcome investment in high demand programs, such as health- and tech-related post-secondary education. But CUFA BC remains concerned by the trend of governments cherry-picking certain programs to support, rather than increasing general operating grants,” says Johnson. “Universities boast their own collegial governance structures for identifying program priorities and allocating internal resources, and when governments choose which educational programs to support, they bypass that institutional expertise. After years of chronic underfunding, we need a significant reinvestment in operational funding.”

For further information, please contact Annabree Fairweather, Executive Director, at 604-367-5856.

The Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia represents over 5,500 professors, lecturers, instructors, and librarians at British Columbia’s five research-intensive universities: University of British Columbia, University of Northern British Columbia, University of Victoria, Royal Roads University, and Simon Fraser University.