Sunday, April 6, 2008

B.C. PSE budgets are actually being cut

Last week, the Vancouver Sun broke a story about the Campbell government's decision to deviate from the expected funding levels for post-secondary institutions by redistributing some money, boosting health care and trade training in some colleges and cutting university funding. I wrote a post saying how reasonable this was with respect to strategic development of PSE in B.C. Well, it seems that that wasn't the whole story. As Erin Millar reports in her excellent Macleans article it tuns out that this budget change isn't just a re-allocation of money from some types of undergraduate programs (full-time student seats) to higher priority programs, but an actual cross-the-board reduction from the expected levels, as well. That means that UBC, among other institutions, are experiencing a reduction in per-student funding, but also a reduction from the expected level of base funding.

How much exactly isn't clear: according to a statement released by UBC President Stephen Toope, the clawback is 4.5 million for UBC-O and 11.3 million for UBC-V. He points out that UBC's budget is still increasing compared to last year, but by 5% instead of 8%. According to the Confederation of University Faculty Associations (CUFA), the numbers are actually higher than that. They estimate 12.4 million less in base funding (from the cross-the-board 2.6% cut) and an additional $5 million less from the reduction in full-time student seat funding, bringing the total cut to $17.4 million for both of UBC's campuses. System wide, CUFA estimates the cuts are worth 40-60 million.

In any event, this is bad news for UBC, which is already struggling to deal with its own structural recurring deficit through program cuts. Such an announcement right before the start of the new fiscal year, after all the budgeting for the university had already been completed is rather a shock. There's been no word about how exactly UBC will absorb this shortfall, though other colleges have already announced layoffs. Even more worrisome is that the government seems to be attempting to spin this as a redistribution only, when it in fact seems to be an cross-the-board reduction from the expected levels by 2.6% AND a FTE redistribution (though still an increase from last year). What's the point in sending the universities letters with the expected funding levels on which to base their budgeting if they don't abide by them?

A group of students and professors from across the province have formed a group called "Coalition Against Funding Cuts" to draw attention to all this. Check out their facebook group HERE for more info on what's being done.

Perhaps universities and colleges have expanded to to much too quickly in a manner that's just unsustainable. If tuition hikes (which we have experienced in the last five years) and great economic times (which we've also experienced in the last five years) aren't enough to satisfactorily fund the province's post-secondary education system, maybe there's something wrong with the size or character of the system in general. I haven't researched exactly how universities and colleges have expanded in the last 20 years, so I don't know, exactly, but I know that just hiring faculty with regular promotions costs more money than the university actually has - a major contributing factor to UBC's own deficit. A sobering thought.