Campus 2020 report acknowledges problems but is short on solutions

Geoff Plant's report, Access and Excellence: The Campus 2020 Plan for British Columbia's Post-Secondary Education System, marks an important admission that the BC Liberals' last six years of policy and funding choices have not worked.

For example, I'm glad that Mr. Plant finally agrees with us that Adult Basic Education should be tuition-free across the province. We've have told the government repeatedly that forcing ABE students to pay for their programs is just plain punitive. I read Mr. Plant's recommendation on this point as an acknowledgement that this is a problem that needs to be fixed.

Unfortunately his report doesn't address one of the most critical problems in post-secondary education: affordability. His recommendation for capping tuition fee increases to a new index won't lower tuition fees. In fact it will allow them to increase at a rate that will be slightly higher than the current rate of inflation.

He's calling for an independent review of the Industry Training Authority. It's a modest recommendation but at least he recognizes that the ITA has not worked and a serious overhaul is required to get it back on track. We agree.

He has some new ideas about governance within the post-secondary education system. He recommends the establishment of the Higher Education Presidents' Council and the Higher Education Board. Both would have new powers to help coordinate work within the public post-secondary system. That's a useful undertaking. My major concern at this point is how inclusive those new entities will be. The Presidents' Council appears to be very exclusive, the Education Board somewhat less so.

Another governance concern we have is that Mr. Plant wants to include private post-secondary institutions in more and more of the overall planning of the public system. Given all the problems that are emerging with private colleges in terms of openness, accountability and reliability that recommendation is going to create problems for the entire system in the long run.

Just as he did with trades training and the ITA, Mr. Plant's report does acknowledge that there are serious problems with private colleges. He calls for a review of the legislation governing those institutions and the appointment of ‘independent' Board members for the overseeing Board for private trainers. That's a very modest step. We think he needs to go much farther, but I'm glad he at least recognizes there is a problem.

We are very concerned about the extent to which Mr. Plant's governance recommendations will allow further integration of private colleges into the public system. Given all media reports about unsavory business practices within the private college system, allowing those institutions greater voice or input into the public system is an ill-considered move at this time. We need to re-regulate private colleges before we grant them greater access to the public system.

Mr. Plant is calling for three new ‘regional universities': Kwantlen, Malaspina and Fraser Valley. We need to see more details on this proposal, but what he talks about in terms of regional access makes some sense. However, I think his proposal is a setback for Thompson Rivers University which had been granted university status and would, under Plant's recommendations, become a regional university instead.

The concept of regional universities that have teaching as their primary function, not research, is an important point to make. As well, we believe that regardless of the name you attach to a post-secondary institution, access to research funding should allow all post-secondary institutions equal opportunity to participate in that funding and supported research activity.

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.