Fiscal shell game leaves post-secondary empty handed

"British Columbians were looking for answers in this budget and the Minister is just offering up a fiscal shell game," said Cindy Oliver, President of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators. "The Minister claims that there is more money for post-secondary education, but most of that money is coming from federal transfers, not new commitments from the provincial treasury," Oliver added.

"Our organization released a poll last week that showed a strong majority of British Columbians wanted to see major investments in post-secondary education. This budget comes nowhere close to meeting those needs. Operating grants to post-secondary institutions are virtually flat-lined in this budget, leaving no capacity to improve access or affordability," Oliver added.

"We know from other jurisdictions that when the economy falters and unemployment rises that people return to post-secondary education for new skills and upgrading. This budget makes no accommodation for those changes. We know that post-secondary enrolments in Ontario, for example, increased by 9% last year. This budget shows less than a 1% increase between 2009 and 2012," Oliver noted.

"This budget does nothing to tackle the glaring problem of affordability in post-secondary education. For the first time ever, tuition fee revenues will top a billion dollars. We were looking for some initiative to try and improve affordability. Taking tuition fees north of a billion dollars is taking our province in the wrong direction," Oliver added.

"This budget should have provided BC with a blueprint for dealing with uncertain economic times. Instead, the Minister has offered up fiscal shell games and underwhelming plans for the road ahead. Our province deserves better," Oliver concluded.

2009 Provincial Budget Backgrounder

The February 2009 provincial budget provides no vision for how BC will deal with the growing economic crisis in our province. The expectations going into the budget were for significant new initiatives to ensure that access and affordability as BC enters an uncertain economic future. Unfortunately those expectations were largely ignored in a budget that maintains a status quo approach to both operating grants and student supports.

In the last two weeks of January, FPSE, along with a number of allies in the Coalition for Public Education, conducted a province-wide poll to gauge the public's views on education issues. The results of that poll confirmed that British Columbians value access to high quality post-secondary learning opportunities, especially at a time when economic conditions point to the need to increase access to post-secondary institutions. The poll found that 85% British Columbians wanted to see the provincial government invest in education as part of a broader economic strategy. As well, 66% supported deficit spending in order to achieve those investments.

The 2009 provincial budget fell well short of meeting those expectations. Operating grants from 2009 to 2011 were essentially flat-lined in this budget. While the Minister of Finance claims that funding for post-secondary education has increased by more than $200 million as a result of this budget, he failed to acknowledge that most of the funding increase comes from federal transfers (Labour Market Agreement and Labour Market and Development Agreement), not new fiscal commitments from the provincial treasury.

Another disappointing development in the 2009 provincial budget is the underwhelming support for new enrolment capacity in post-secondary institutions. In other provinces, where unemployment has increased, we see a predictable increase in the number of students who are returning to post-secondary institutions to upgrade their skills. In Ontario, for example, enrolments in colleges and institutes have increased by 9%. In BC, the 2009 provincial budget is forecasting less than a 2% increase in enrolments, despite the fact that the provincial unemployment rate is expected to increase by over 2 percentage points in the current year.

The provincial budget also fails to deal with the growing affordability crisis that BC students are facing. For the first time ever, tuition fee revenues in BC will exceed one billion dollars in 2009. The budget also provides no increase in Student Financial Assistance. Making matters worse, the budget shows that the amount of student financial assistance will have to be spread across more students, effectively eroding the real value of that assistance.

Summary of Budget Items for the Ministry of Advanced Education

Operating Grants to Post-Secondary Institutions ($000)
2008-09: $1,793,691
2009-10: $1,924,402
2010-11: $1,949,551
2011-12: $1,950,602

Student Financial Assistance ($000)
2008-09: $116,009
2009-10: $116,503
2010-11: $116,503
2011-12: $116,503

Capital Spending at Post-Secondary Institutions ($000)
2008-09: $666,000
2009-10: $619,000
2010-11: $551,000
2011-12: $487,000

Total Student Spaces (FTE) in Public Post-Secondary Institutions
2008-09: 193,329
2009-10: 205,396
2010-11: 206,357
2011-12: 206,626

Source: Ministry of Advanced Education Service Plan, 2007-08-2009-10

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.