TRUSU’s campaign to address TRU’s underfunding hasn’t slowed down over the summer and is in fact in full gear. Since last October, TRUSU’s Campaigns Committee has made 50 presentations to community organizations and municipalities throughout the region and has received 30 letters of support, says vice-president external Cole Hickson.
“This past year was quite successful, we did fifty presentations around our community since October alone and received thirty letters of support,” Hickson said. “With those letters of support, we sent them to the Ministry of Advanced Education, with an ask for them to re-evaluate the funding formula.”
The Ministry of Advanced Education has since responded to TRUSU’s request to re-evaluate TRU’s funding formula, yet have stated that it isn’t something they want to look into at this time, says Hickson.
“It comes down to the government doing a lot of things,” he said. “It is hard to push them to do something on a campaign, but frankly it’s one of those common sense things.”
According to TRUSU, despite TRU having the broadest mandate of any post-secondary institution in British Columbia, the university has been shorted $80 million in the past five years alone.
In fact, since 2005, TRU has received the exact same block funding, adjusted for inflation, per year. Though TRU has grown much in the last thirteen years, in terms of both growth of the student population and more diverse course offerings, the university is still receiving the same amount of same amount of funding it did in 2005.
“If we look at that now, in terms of per person funding, we are 20th out of 25 institutions in terms of per student funding,” Hickson added.
So what exactly does a lack of funding mean for TRU? It often means that students, both domestic and international are expected to pick up the slack, says Hickson.
“Since 2005 it’s been stagnant. It has been adjusted for inflation and let’s be honest it is unsustainable,” he said. “On top of increases in our program offerings, right now we have graduate programs, a law school, all of which aren’t being funded and we have one of the most expensive law schools in the country. It makes a student, like me, who wants to continue their education here, quite difficult because it is quite expensive.”
Hickson adds that despite the university being underfunded by millions of dollars a year, if the government was to adopt a more equitable funding formula not just for TRU, but for all institutions across B.C., the economic return would be huge.
“Roughly for every dollar you invest into the institution, there is a five dollar return for our region and a ten dollar return for our province,” he said.
While TRUSU is ready to take the next step in their Fund the Future campaign by tabling at upcoming events like the Farmer’s Market, Overlanders Day, Rib Fest and the Pride Parade, as well as doing some door-knocking this month, in the past they have looked at various models of funding to find a best bit for TRU.
TRUSU believes that B.C. could learn from the system in place in Ontario. Though Ontario’s Basic Operating Grant provides grants based on historical enrolments, their core model also includes four other specific grants that support new enrolment and growth.
The Ontario model also allows for performance based funding, tied to graduation and employment rates, as well as funding for government priorities such as students with disabilities or Indigenous students.
Even if block funding is here to stay, Alberta’s model of annually adjusting funding across all institutions equally would be markedly better.
In many ways, Hickson calls the revaluation of post-secondary funding here in B.C. a service to all British Columbians. Not only would it be an investment in economies both local and provincial, but an overall better spending of tax dollars.
“It’s a more efficient and effective way of spending tax dollars on post-secondary education in B.C.,” he said. “It’s also an investment in our future, so people can really understand it in terms of who is going to picking up the bill for our economy, what kind of economy do we want to have in the future and just how much our institution contributes to our economy here directly.”