Union launches campaign in the face of dwindling government funding to the university
TRU gets $1,330 less funding per student than the average post-secondary institution in British Columbia, according to TRUSU.
Using data provided by the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, the student union compared per-student funding of all institutions in B.C. and found that TRU placed in the bottom third.
Additionally, the data was broken down in terms of each institution’s mandate and services it offers.
“When you look at data, you know – we’re not UBC, but we’re also not Selkirk College. We’re a unique institution in our own right,” said Leif Douglass, TRUSU vice-president external. “We wanted to look at mandates and specifically, ‘Okay, what is TRU required to do by government versus other institutions across the province?’”
According to the data, TRU receives 14 per cent less funding than the average institution offering bachelors degrees, 16 per cent less than the average with masters programs and 20 per cent less than the average university mandated to perform research.
“In every category we get, you know, a fair bit less than the average,” Douglass said.
Christopher Seguin, TRU vice-president of advancement, admitted that TRU is funded less than other B.C. institutions. He added, however, that the provincial funding formula is more complicated than TRUSU claims. According to Seguin, TRU’s funding is not determined per student, but is a base amount calculated by the government. This number does not necessarily account for TRU’s growth over the last decade.
“We’ve grown organically,” Seguin said. “This means we have great faculty, we have great programs and we have great students, and suddenly that masters program becomes stronger, larger and more costly at the same time. Our very evolution is causing cost drives to happen.”
Seguin also pointed to the disconnect between the growth of advanced programs and research and the Thompson Rivers University Act, which created TRU in 2005 as a middle ground between teaching universities and research universities, such as UBC. Because of this unique classification, while the act mandates TRU “to undertake and maintain research and scholarly activities,” TRU is not necessarily seen as a research university when funding is considered.
TRU Faculty Association (TRUFA) president Tom Friedman agreed that the Thompson Rivers University Act sets TRU apart from other institutions.
“Our mandate is a regional mandate, not a provincial mandate, which means that we have to meet the educational needs of the region,” Friedman said.
Friedman added that the administration was enamoured with the idea of becoming a university in 2005, but did not push for increased funding. The faculty wanted to “be a university not just in name, but in substance.”
“We should be funded at a higher level than two-year community colleges,” he said.
TRUFA has noticed a marked lag in funding at TRU, particularly in undergraduate and graduate research, according to Friedman.
While TRU’s advanced programs have grown exponentially over the last 15 years, Seguin said a tough B.C. economy has made getting more funding a challenge.
“It has been a tough economic time for the last five, even 10 years and we don’t know what the future will bring,” he said. “We hope with a more financially stable economy, we’ll see opportunity to see the funding model change.”
He continued, “We are in constant communication with all our representatives at all levels of government, and they know we have an increasing role in research. I have faith that, when possible, these conversations that I’m having with them will lead to, you know, looking at our funding model, but right now it doesn’t look promising.”
In response to their findings, TRUSU recently launched “Fund the Future”, a campaign focused on educating the public on TRU’s provincial funding. On top of the data, TRUSU is also pushing for a re-evaluation of the university’s funding formula to better reflect its mandate, a link between funding and inflation and a system of needs-based grants. Lower tuition and eliminating interest on student loans are also on the agenda.
TRUSU plans to present their findings and recommendations to the B.C. Standing Committee on Government and Finance on Sept. 30.