Post-secondary education needs good policy not cheap politics

Earlier this month Premier Campbell unveiled his plan to help BC's ailing public post-secondary education system. It was a plan short on details. But even more disconcerting, it was a plan draped in partisan politics, rather than anchored to sound public policy.

What was the Premier's plan? He announced that, starting in 2007, his government was going to "invest $1,000 in the name of each new child born here in British Columbia to help them meet their post-secondary skills development needs and learning in the future."

Forget for a moment that his plan was devoid of specific details-how much would the government set aside for this initiative, how would British Columbians access the money, would the money be earmarked for individuals or for post-secondary institutions-the real surprise in this announcement was the venue. It wasn't announced at the Legislature in Victoria, it was made at the BC Liberal Party Convention in Penticton. Hardly the venue for committing a government to substantial or balanced new public policy.

In fact, if the premier was serious about committing new public dollars to post-secondary education, the only place to make that announcement is the Legislature where all MLAs can scrutinize the details and question the government in an open and accountable way.

Unfortunately, the surprises around this announcement didn't stop at the venue. Many observers questioned the timing of the Premier's announcement. Why would the Premier decide to make this announcement when he has asked his former Cabinet Minister, Geoff Plant, to undertake a full review of provincial post-secondary education? Mr. Plant's review, Campus 2020, is set to make recommendations in the Spring of 2007. Why prejudice that review by announcing a policy commitment that may be completely out of step with the recommendations of Campus 2020? Or perhaps the signal here is that the Premier isn't much interested in those recommendations and already has his own version of what the Campus 2020 final report should look like. Either way, the message is, at best, confusing.

However, the real disappointment in the Premier's announcement is that it falls so abysmally short of addressing the substantial problems facing BC's public post-secondary education system. Students are being burdened with the mistakes of the BC Liberals' tuition fee de-regulation, which has led to skyrocketing fee increases and ever-increasing student debt loads. Post-secondary institutions are being saddled with chronic under-funding, which has put enormous downward pressure on per-student funding from the provincial government. In real terms (i.e., adjusting for inflation) per-student operating grants for the public post-secondary system are 11% below the level they were in 2001 when the BC Liberals first took office.

The $1,000 per child announcement will do very little to address either problem. Today's post-secondary students will see no relief from skyrocketing tuition fees and under-funded post-secondary institutions will still face the same fiscal pressures. The fact is that the Premier's announcement completely ignores today's urgent problems and instead tries to trumpet the prospect of future funding (remember the earliest this money will enter the post-secondary system is 18 years from today) as the visionary cure-all.

It may make for a great convention speech to a partisan crowd, but it's a terrible way to build sound public policy that works for everyone.

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for more information contact:
Phillip Legg
Staff Representative, Communications and Policy
(604) 788-2877

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.