This is getting embarrassing

Either B.C.’s ministry of advanced education or the Confederation of University Faculty Associations needs to take Econ 100


The public quarrel between the B.C. government and the Confederation of University Faculty Associations (CUFA) culminated this week in a back-and-forth in the Vancouver Sun, highlighting the increasingly embarrassing disagreement over just how much the government has invested in post-secondary education.

CUFA, along with many public universities and colleges, has been decrying advanced education minister Murray Coell’s 2.6 per cent slash to funding forecasts for universities and colleges since the surprise announcement in March. The $50 million cutback came only weeks before the beginning of the new fiscal year, catching universities off guard.

Surprisingly, the B.C. government never conceded that it had indeed cut funding. Instead, in a brilliant spin, Minister Coell continually denied cutting funds and instead boasted of what he claimed is a 40 per cent hike in PSE funding since 2001. For instance, in a response to a Naniamo Daily News story, Coell wrote, “This year alone, post-secondary institutions received a $68-million budget increase. Since when is a $68-million increase a cutback?”

If the apparent cutback is actually a funding boost, why did UBC president Stephen Toope call it a “challenge” and UNBC president cite it as a reason for his early resignation?

That’s the question CUFA president Paul Bowles aimed to answer in his an August 20 op-ed in the Vancouver Sun, which kicked off the latest sparring match with the government. The article entitled “Universities are learning when more actually means less” uses annual budget estimates – the same document the government used to calculate its 40 per cent increase figure – to generate their own guessimate: some 24 per cent increase since 2001. Although that is a significant jump in funding, Bowles reasons, enrolment growth has outpaced funding growth, putting per student funding below 2001 levels. Bowles also points out that once inflation is factored in, the real dollar amount is even lower.

Minister Coell responded in Tuesday’s paper with op-ed “We should feel good about university funding.” He wrote, “It never fails to amaze me how some people can take perfectly good news and turn it around, play fast and loose with facts, and make it sound somehow negative.” Coell goes on to argue that per student funding has gone up (from $8,440 per student in 2001-02 to $9,308 in 2008-09), B.C.’s tuition is the fourth lowest in Canada, the government has made significant investments in infrastructure—and, yes, that he’s sticking to his 40 per cent increase figure.

Coell has hit it on the head on at least one point: it is amazing that some people play fast and loose with the facts. The relevant question now is: who is doing the playing?

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This is getting embarrassing

  1. What does this issue have to do with “Econ 100”? This is finance — not macro- or even micro-economics.

  2. I don’t know what school you went to Rick, but government expenditures are covered in macroeconomics, or at least they were when I took first year economics.

  3. I think Minister Coell is the sole person in the province right now trying to assert that funding for PSE in BC has gone up. Arguments over the definition of what constitutes a funding increase or cut aside, I would ask Coell: if funding is going up, why are debt levels rising while the quality of education declines?

  4. Don Cozzetto cited the “cuts” as the reason for his resignation as President of UNBC – it was an excuse not the reason.

  5. Hey folks, instead of just reporting the rhetoric from both sides, why don’t you do some research and explain it to us so we can each make a judgement?

    By using unattributed words and phrases like “slash” and “brilliant spin” your writer seems to be offering her own editorial. How about providing some analysis before the editorial?

  6. And the tiff goes on:

    Minister’s Newspeak doesn’t ease funding crunch
    Vancouver Sun
    Thursday, August 28, 2008

    Re: We should feel good about university funding, Issues & Ideas, Aug. 26

    Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell’s attempt to discredit our
    analysis of B.C. post-secondary education funding would be laughable if
    it weren’t so Orwellian.

    There is no denying the fact that there are fewer real dollars of
    government funding per student today than in 2001. Yet the minister
    tries to convince us otherwise by using budget estimates, instead of
    actual spending, and by ignoring the effects of inflation.

    Everyone except Coell knows a dollar in 2008 buys less than a dollar in
    2001. The public knows it, students know it and professors know it.

    It doesn’t matter how many times he repeats his spin, no one is buying
    his attempts to gloss over the difficulties B.C.’s public universities
    and colleges face in delivering high-quality education.

    His government has done good things for post-secondary education, but it
    has stumbled. It can either take responsibility or it can continue to
    deny the reality. Either way, we know the truth.

    Robert Clift
    Executive director
    Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C.


    Minister’s Newspeak doesn’t ease funding crunch
    Vancouver Sun
    Thursday, August 28, 2008

    As university and college students and staff begin a new academic year,
    they should understand that while Murray Coell is urging us all to feel
    good about funding, his government has cut institutional budgets.

    On March 12, the provincial government informed public post-secondary
    institutions that projected 2008-09 operating grants would be reduced by
    2.6 per cent across the board and that there would be a reallocation of
    some new student seats.

    This came as a shock to universities and colleges and has created chaos
    for those seeking to manage the significant unexpected shortfall.

    The impact of this cut is estimated to be between $50 and $60 million.
    Especially at a time when costs — particularly energy-related costs —
    are increasing, cuts of this magnitude must be acknowledged by government.

    I won’t hold my breath, but it would be great to see a back-to-school
    announcement from Coell that restores funding levels.

    Barry O’Neill
    President, B.C. division
    Canadian Union of Public Employees


  7. It is exactly this tyoe of game playing that will cost Campbell seats in the next election. It cannot come soon enough.

  8. To summarize why the Minister’s numbers differ from our numbers:

    1. He is using budget estimate figures instead of actual expenditures. In the last year of the NDP government in 2001, they budgeted to spend $1.25 billion, but actually spent $1.43 billion. We think using the actual spending is the appropriate measure for this types of analysis.

    2. The Minister is using figures that haven’t been adjusted for inflation — these are called “current dollar” figures. We use figures that have been adjusted by the BC Consumer Price Index — these are called “real dollar” figures.

    3. The Minister appears to be using a lower student enrollment figure for 2008/09 than the one in the 2008 budget materials. It appears that he has taken out the apprenticeship spaces that were added in as of the 2008/09 budget year (and apparently not included in previous years). I’m having a closer look at this and will release updated figures next week, if necessary.

    Even if we were to accept the Minister’s funding number for 2001 and the smaller student numbers for 2008/09, one of our colleagues at Royal Roads University worked out that after you adjust for inflation, per FTE funding is still down 6.7% in real terms since 2001.

    As for who needs the economics classes, our President, Paul Bowles, is Professor of Economics at the University of Northern British Columbia.

  9. Pingback: BC reviewing student loan interest rates : Macleans OnCampus

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