B.C. Budget Calls for Cuts at Post-secondary Institutions

VANCOUVER (CUP)In the pursuit of a balanced budget, B.C. is asking universities and colleges to tighten their belts.

The provincial government, in its budget tabled Feb. 21, is calling for post-secondary institutions to cut $70 million from their collective budgets over the next three years.

According to Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, the government expects this money to come from administrative savings. “The province will work with universities, colleges, and other institutions to help ensure that front-line programs are not affected,” he says in his budget announcement. “And we believe a one percent cost reduction is very achievable.”

Funding will stay stable for the next year, with the cuts coming between 2013 and 2015.

The budget document asserts that savings can be found by combined purchases of equipment by institutions, cutting travel costs, and through a reduction in support services.

A statement from the Ministry of Advanced Education emphasized that the budget also included a $9 million increase for “additional medical, health, and other priority seats,” and that $462 million had been set aside for capital projects over the next few years.

UBC declined to comment about how it would deal with budget cuts.

Michelle Mungall, the NDP critic for advanced education, says that despite the government’s promises, the cuts are likely to affect students. “We’re seeing colleges report projected deficits, and that would be before the budget was released. And now with this budget, we’re going to see program cuts.”

She argued that institutions have been cutting back on administration for years and that there remains little left to cut. “They’ve become very lean machines,” she says. “And they have no choice but to go back to students. No surprise here, when you look at the budget book, that the only thing increasing in post-secondary education is revenue from tuition.”

Mungall says that colleges will be hit harder by the budget cuts than universities. “They don’t have the ability to seek out research grants to top up in the same way that universities do.”

Mungall also pointed to the special challenges of northern and rural institutions. She argued that schools that have multiple campuses spread over large regions, such as Okanagan College and Northwest Community College, must pay more for travel and often replicate classes at various campuses.

She went on to say that the budget also falls short on financial aid for students, and that an NDP government would reinstate a needs-based grant program that was axed in 2005.

Rober Clift, the executive director of the Canadian Federation of University Faculty Associations of B.C., says that post-secondary institutions face greater inflationary pressures than other sectors of the economy. “Prices for things like journals, scientific equipment, laboratory supplies . . . the inflation rates for those types of goods and services increases at a faster rate than the general price index,” he says.

Clift was suspect of the government’s claim that funding cuts won’t affect students. “They said that the cuts can’t come at the expense of services to students, which is laudable, but impossible,” he says. “Students are going to feel this one way or another.”

Clift went on to say that while lay-offs are unlikely at universities, one way that savings may be found is by departments not rehiring for vacancies. “So it’s not that a faculty member gets laid off, but a department that was maybe looking to hire somebody won’t do that hiring now. When we can’t reduce services to students, we can’t cut the number of sections, so what we do [is] we try to hire sessional instructors to do that job.”