by Dr. George A. Davison
President, Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C.
Two years after the launch of the “Skills for Jobs Blueprint,” B.C.’s post-secondary educators don’t see much to celebrate.
The Blueprint is about feeding Premier Clark’s fantasy fund. It was designed to support the 100,000 jobs we were told would manifest out of LNG. The jobs aren’t there. The LNG isn’t there. The dream was a bust, and so is the Blueprint.
The Blueprint restricts funding to only specialized, targeted post-secondary programs, which threatens to undermine economic diversity and student success. Since 2014, the B.C. government has been moving to limit post-secondary funding to what they have determined are their top priorities. While those programs deserve support, what about those who want to study in other areas?
Post-secondary education is about more than the jobs the government has chosen for students. Narrowly funding programs that only match what the government believes are up and coming jobs will lead to failure in the long-term. Not only is it completely unfair for the students, limiting choice – forcing public colleges and universities to cut back in other areas – reduces flexibility and doesn’t foster a truly diversified economy.
The list of B.C. Liberal failures in post-secondary education has now extended to an entire generation of students and would fill this page. To summarize, here is the list of the Top 10 BC Liberal failures in post-secondary education:
1. A Blueprint for education designed for industry, not students.
2. “Re-engineering” post-secondary education while ignoring their own “Campus 2020” report.
3. Declining per-student operating grants for BC’s public institutions – by 27 per cent since 2001, when adjusted for inflation.
4. Annual increases in fees for students – and an almost 400 per cent increase in tuition fees since 2001.
5. The elimination of tuition-free Adult Basic Education at public post-secondary institutions.
6. The elimination of tuition-free English as an Additional Language programs at public post-secondary institutions.
7. An Adult Upgrading Grant designed to exclude the vast majority of British Columbians.
8. A 50 per cent increase in the number of senior administrators in public post-secondary institutions, and a 200 per cent increase in executive compensation since 2002.
9. Failing to invest to improve Aboriginal representation in most areas of study (including high school graduation rates).
10. Program or section cuts at community colleges across BC, over 100 individual course sections at one college alone.
The BC 2024 Labour Market Outlook predicts that 78 per cent of the projected one million job openings will require post-secondary education – yet the money isn’t there to enable students to access the education they need to fill those jobs. The vast majority of the projected jobs will require problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and the ability to communicate effectively. Yet the programs that teach these skills are the ones that institutions are cutting to save money.
B.C.’s colleges and universities are being squeezed, and BC’s students are paying the price.
Around the province, community colleges are cutting back on university transfer programs, while adult basic education and English language training now come with hefty price tags for all but a few who qualify for the Adult Upgrading Grant. One wonders, of the one million projected jobs, how the 78 per cent requiring post-secondary education will be filled when students who need to upgrade courses, or complete a Dogwood diploma, or take second-year English, can’t access the education they need to pursue their career.
We need trades training in B.C. But we also need a full and diverse post-secondary education system that trains people for the jobs of today, and prepares them for the challenges of tomorrow and beyond.
Note: this piece also appeared in the Vancouver Sun, p. A15, on April 29, 2016