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BC's cuts to universities, colleges much more than reported

New estimates put cuts as high as $60 million, up from $16 million last week

The surprise funding cut to colleges and universities in BC announced last month appears to be a significantly higher figure than originally reported. The reported $16 million province-wide cut may be as high as $50 million, according to new estimates by the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC.

BC’s post-secondary institutions were given a nasty surprise March 12 when the Ministry of Advanced Education announced a 2.6 per cent funding cut across the board, only weeks before the new fiscal year begins in April. Institutions have been scrambling since to figure out exactly how the cuts will affect their specific funding and how to absorb the shortfall into their budget — budgets that in many cases have been planned for months and recently finalized.

The original news story from the Vancouver Sun, reported a total of $16 million in cuts that would affect six universities. At the time it appeared that colleges would benefit because the money was to be redirected at high priority areas, such as health care and skilled labour training. But as the numbers have been clarified, it is clear that colleges are also grappling with cuts and that the province-wide funding shortfall is much higher than originally believed.

The Confederation of University Faculty Associations (CUFA) has been attempting to get further clarification from the provincial government, but with little luck. “They haven’t been particularly forthcoming,” said executive director Robert Clift. Clift said that the 2.6 per cent cut to expected operating funding accounts for over $40 million but “with what we have been hearing the last week, that number is probably closer to $50 million,” said Clift.

Philip Legg, policy and communications of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC, estimated that the cuts are in the $60 million range. Legg says that the shortfall is leading to layoffs at virtually every college in BC. “College presidents are saying that they are facing budget deficits,” Legg said. Some are as large as $2.3 million at Douglas College, which is a fairly large college.

UBC was initially expected to lose $8.7 million in funding. But in a statement to the UBC community president Stephen Toope said that UBC Okanagan stands to receive $4.5 million less than expected while UBC Vancouver will get $11.3 million less.

Although it is unclear where the $16 million figure came from, it is possible that the confusion stems from the fact that both base funding claw backs and seat reallocations are happening at the same time. Every institution, whether university or college, is affected by the 2.6 per cent cut to the base funding. In addition to that cut, the government is reallocating undergraduate FTE (full-time student seats), which means that many institutions are also losing per student funding.

CUFA’s estimate of cuts at UBC is higher than Toope’s figures. CUFA estimates that UBC (including both campuses) will receive $12.4 million less in base funding and an additional $5 million less from the reduction in FTE funding, bringing the total cut to $17.4 million.

Although CUFA hasn’t compiled solid estimates of the cuts to college budgets, they are very confident on their university figures, according to Clift. CUFA estimates that the total base cut to university budgets is $24.3 million. The total FTE cut to universities is $5.9 million. UBC is getting hit the hardest with the reallocation of FTE funding. SFU will lose the second highest am0unt with an additional $764,000 FTE cut. The University of Northern British Columbia does not face an FTE reduction and Thompson Rivers University will receive an $148,000 boost in FTE funding.

Another important point is that the cuts are recurring. Last spring the provincial government distributed letters to each post-secondary institution indicating the level of funding to expect for the following three years. However, these surprise cuts won’t only affect this year, but will continue in future years.

UBC president Stephen Toope said in his statement that UBC’s 2008/09 budget was premised on the operating grant initially projected by the government. “The government’s budget decision is especially challenging as it comes on the heels of tremendous effort made on the Vancouver Campus to deal with a large structural deficit. However, I can say that our efforts towards budgetary transparency will continue as we sort through options to meet this challenge.”

Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell said that the money coming out of operating grants would be redirected at high-priority areas, such as Aboriginal education and health care and skilled labour training. But it seems that while FTE funding is being reallocated for that purpose, the 2.6 per cent cut across the board is simply gone from the post-secondary system, according to Clift.

Legg says that the government is spinning the situation. “They are saying, ‘We haven’t cut. We’ve simply reduced.’,” he said. All universities and colleges are seeing an increase in funding over last year. Nevertheless, Legg says that the government’s explanation doesn’t make sense in light of all of the resulting layoffs and program cuts.

Last week, administrators at Malaspina University College told the faculty union to expect significant layoffs because of the budget crisis resulting from the funding cuts. “In spite of recent stories about the Liberal government providing money to Malaspina University-College, the truth is that they are forcing Malaspina to make cuts that will affect students’ ability to access programs in their own community,” said Dan McDonald, president of the Malaspina Faculty Association.

Students and professors protested at Vancouver Community College last week. VCC announced Thursday plans to cut 393 full-time student spaces and layoff 16 employees. 40 other positions will be eliminated through early retirement and unfilled vacancies.

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