Faculty layoffs and program cuts are expected at colleges and universities in British Columbia, after the BC government announced a $16 million funding shortfall. The funding cuts came as a surprise to institutions, since the province generally lays out funding expectations three years in advance to allow schools to budget effectively.
Last week, administrators at Malaspina University College told the faculty union to expect significant layoffs because of the budget crisis resulting from the funding cuts. “In spite of recent stories about the Liberal government providing money to Malaspina University-College, the truth is that they are forcing Malaspina to make cuts that will affect students’ ability to access programs in their own community,” said Dan McDonald, president of the Malaspina Faculty Association.
Students and professors protested at Vancouver Community College last week. Proposed cuts would eliminate seven per cent of faculty positions and classes for 1000 students each year. “The board’s plan will carve out experienced faculty, instructors who deliver important programs that this community needs. Two-thirds of the cuts will be in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. But they are also eliminating positions in the Developmental Disability Program, the Employment Opportunity for Women Program as well as Counseling and the program for the Visually Impaired,” said Frank Cosco president of the VCC Faculty Association.
Colleges and universities were given a letter last spring outlining government funding for the next three years. However, on March 12, Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell informed institutions that they would receive 2.6 per cent less funding than expected, a total of $16 million across the province. The announcement came only weeks before institutions’ fiscal year begins in April.
The move is part of an initiative to focus funding on high-priority areas, including health care training and skilled labour programs. Since most of these programs are at colleges, universities will be hit hardest. UBC stands to lose $8.7 million while SFU will miss $4 million.
The strategy is being seen as a response to falling enrolment in academic programs because of the booming BC economy. But some believe this is short-sighted. “The post-secondary education system will not have the capacity it needs as the economy starts to cool,” said Dominique Roelants, a computer science instructor at Malaspina and second VP of the British Columbia Federation of Post Secondary Educators.
Historically, university enrolment has spiked when the economy slows down and jobs aren’t as available. Roelants is worried that set backs in the BC lumber industry could be evidence of the economic problems felt in the States. “Given this situation, it is impossible to understand why the Liberal government chooses to cut the very means of solving the skills shortage,” said Roelants. “This short sighted approach will further damage our economy. These cuts mean we will lose our ability to solve the skills shortage.”