BC’s surplus leaves universities agog

With so much cash on hand, why were univ budgets cut?


The recent annoucement that the B.C. Liberals are swimming in a $3 billion surplus has the opposition NDP, university administrators, students, and faculty screaming.

Readers will recall that in March, the B.C. government reduced expected transfers to the province’s institutions of post-secondary education across the board by 2.6 per cent, or, roughly, $50 million. That decision has forced universities and colleges to make sweeping cuts to make up for the shortfall, and the president of the University of Northern British Columbia quit because he did not want to be a scapegoat.

In light of the surplus, surely student groups will be calling for money to be rediverted back into universities? And they are. Well, sort of. According to the Nanaimo Daily News, the Malaspina University College Vancouver Island University Students’ Union is calling for the surplus to be used to lower tuition.

I’m not sure how funding tuition decreases is suppose to help boost an institution’s operating budget. But hey, what would university politics be without student government reflexively calling for lower tuition? But never mind that.

The Daily News article contained a number of comments from those huffing about the budget surplus, and today the minister of education, Murray Coell, replied. Coell begins by slamming the paper, implying it is an agent of the NDP. A CanWest paper in bed with the NDP? Really? Izzy Asper must be rolling in his grave.

The minister wrote: “Once again, I see the Daily News relying on NDP spin doctors who continue to work mischief with their assertions that B.C.’s post-secondary institutions have suffered a cutback.”

Coell does have a point. The funding shortfall was not a cutback per se. No, it was a last minute reduction in promised funding. Which amounts to the same thing as, what’s the word — a cutback

The government had implemented a three year funding formula so that universities could better plan for the future. But, the wind kind of gets knocked out of the idea when institutions are told they will be getting millions less than promised. And, at the precise moment when university budgets are being finalized for the following year, no doubt.

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BC’s surplus leaves universities agog

  1. Great story coverage.
    The BC Liberals have, in a single year, cut PSE funding, magically created a hand full of new “universities”(that I suppose will be funded… um, magically as well) and then… POOF, tout a budget surplus BCers are supposed to applaud. Maybe they should go back to school, lay off the magic and witchcraft class, and enroll in a math course or two.

  2. I think the University of Ottawa is the only University in Canada – maybe the World – that offers “Witchcraft”.

  3. Student unions are not “kind of” calling for a repeal to funding cuts. Nearly ever BC student organization was on board in releasing a statement opposing provincial budget cuts to post-secondary education. Calling for the provincial surplus to be used to reduce tuition, I’m sure, is certainly not suggesting that the money cut from colleges and universities should be reinstated in order to reduce tuition, but rather that the cut money should be reinstate AND tuition should be reduced. We can talk about whether calling for tuition reduction is a good policy or political idea, but it certainly isn’t inconsistent with the reinstatement of funding for post-secondary institutions. But I will say that politically it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. The funding cuts have put pressure on the PSE institutions to find additional sources of funding. That could very likely come through a removal of the 2% cap on tuition increases. Calling for reduced tuition could help to combat the potential for an increase in tuition.

  4. Every dollar that goes into reducing tuition is a dollar that doesn’t go into a university operating budget. Tuition decreases help no one except those already in university, which are predominantly from upper income tiers. When student governments call for it at every chance they get, it demonstrates nothing but self-interested elitism.

  5. Again, it is entirely possible for a university operating budget to increase and tuition to decrease at the same time, given adequate government funding.

    The argument that lowering tuition subsidizing high income families has been shown to be fallacious. I know where you’re coming from though. The highest-income 25% of families make up 31% of postsecondary students in Canada and students from the lowest-income 25% make up 20% of postsecondary students. So, deceasing tuition is more favourable to high-income families because they make up a larger part of the post-secondary population. This analysis, though, is shortsighted. It actually turns out that the highest income 25% of households with children earn 47% of the income, pay 47% of the taxes and make up 31% of the student population. The lowest-income 25% of families with children earn 8% of the income, pay 8% of the taxes, and make up 21% of the student population. It should be pretty clear from this that tuition fees act as a regressive tax on low income students.

  6. Your hypothesis does not address the documented higher level of debt aversion of those from lower income tiers, Carson.

    Reducing tuition benefits these people by lowering the amount of student loans they have to take for schooling, thus reducing that psychological barrier for them. Thus, it does help those who aren’t already in university by perhaps making it more likely that they feel they can take undertake university study.

    However, I’m interested to hear the other side of the compairson you’ve set up. Since you point out that tuition money doesn’t go into the operating budget, and that tuition decreases only help those who are already in university, I’m curious about how you think that money put into the university operating budgets help those who *aren’t* already in university.

    I mean, that is the comparison you are setting up, right? It’s not just a cheap red-herring attack, correct?

  7. Quoting T. Thwim in Ottawa: “Your hypothesis does not address the documented higher level of debt aversion of those from lower income tiers, Carson. Reducing tuition benefits these people by lowering the amount of student loans they have to take for schooling, thus reducing that psychological barrier for them.”

    Better yet, why not just make university education free for poor people? Why is there aversion to that idea?

  8. Pingback: Con deficits, no surprise.

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