Campaign pressures government to increase school funding

Open the Doors campaign pushes to bring funding back to institutions and relieve student debt

TRU Faculty Association members campaigning in April 2016, for the Open the Doors campaign. (TRUFA)

TRU Faculty Association members campaigning in April 2016, for the Open the Doors campaign. (TRUFA)

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C. (FPSE) has teamed up with faculty associations throughout the province to tackle the issue of per-student government funding cuts and the negative impact they have had on institutions from program cuts to the incessant tuition costs burdening students.

Hearing the call to take action, the TRU Faculty Association (TRUFA) has joined the efforts by promoting the FPSE’s Open the Doors campaign here on campus. The campaign was launched back in March 2015.

The organization says that per-student funding grants from the provincial government are contributing about 20 per cent less to university coffers and putting a strain on faculty and administration.

George Davison, president of the FPSE, explained that in 2002 the B.C. Liberal government decreased per-student operating grant funding to all universities, and within a year or two released a freeze on tuition fees.

The federation claims that the lack of funding from the provincial government will see these costs continue to rise, as well as putting programs in jeopardy as resources are diverted away from them and institutions look to balance the books.

Although each university is subject to the same cap on tuition increases, institutions have been able to work around the cap by increasing fees in other areas, while the government has turned a blind eye, since it is the only way some of the provinces universities can stay above water, according to Davison.

“Institutions have found every creative way imaginable, and they’ve had 15 years to do this, to get around that tuition cap. One of the ways is by cancelling a program, revamping it, and re-launching it with higher tuition,” Davison said.

In places like Langara College, Davison said, tuition fees are now accounting for up to 56 per cent of institutional revenues, showing that while universities used to not have to rely on tuition as a dominant source of revenue, they are increasingly dependent on it.

Tom Friedman, president of TRUFA, said that here at TRU, “student tuition, that used to be about 20 per cent is now, for the first time, bigger than the government grant. It’s just exceeded 42 per cent.”

“In terms of cuts, because of underfunding we are seeing the number of core sections, or the number of courses being cut. In other words, in some areas students have less selection in terms of courses, and some students are telling us they have had to delay their graduations,” Friedman said.

This is more of a provincial government issue, though, than an institutional one, Friedman pointed out, saying that, university administrators are under a lot of pressure to recover lost revenue.

He said TRU’s administration has been trying to bring more revenue into the university to sustain the operating costs in a number of ways, from an increase in international students on campus to the new Maple Leaf University School and the development of The Reach.

Universities are also under pressure to accommodate government initiatives like the Skills for Jobs Blueprint launched in 2014, which asks universities to take up to 25 per cent of their decreasing government grants and divest them into trades programs, something Davison believes does not reflect the needs of B.C. institutions, and as a result other programs in need of funding may lose it.

Every year the FPSE has submitted recommendations to the provincial government’s select standing committee on finance and government services, but has not received any response.

It’s a tall order, but the Open the Doors campaign would like to see the provincial government restore post-secondary institutional funding back to what it was in 2002, and will continue to push these issues on the provincial government until they are heard.