Vancouver Island post-secondary unions send open letter to Premier Eby and Minister Robinson
VICTORIA – Today post-secondary unions from across Vancouver Island sent the following letter to Premier Eby and Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills Selena Robinson.
April 26, 2023
Dear Premier Eby and Minister Robinson,
The undersigned post-secondary unions from Vancouver Island believe it is necessary to provide the following suggestions in hopes that the provincial government will act quickly to address the budgetary cuts and layoffs happening at many post-secondary institutions.
These budget cuts and layoffs are, first and foremost, devastating to the workers and families who lose employment. Our members and communities should not be punished because of the inherent instability of our current post-secondary funding model. These cuts have further detrimental effects on our members and Universities and Colleges by reducing the number of classes that can be offered, reducing supports that help instructors be the best teachers they can be while increasing workloads of remaining instructors and staff and thus negatively affecting the quality of education that can be delivered.
Colleges and universities in BC have become over-reliant on tuition fees, particularly from international students, in order to maintain their financial positions and to deliver consistent, high-quality education. This over-reliance is not only unfair to students but has predictably created instability in the post-secondary system. International student enrolment fluctuates over time. External factors such as economic and/or health crises, or government backlogs in issuing student visas can drastically reduce enrollment. When significant declines in enrolment occur, post-secondary institutions are forced to slash budgets and lay off staff. The provincial government needs to intervene and stabilize the post-secondary system.
In the medium to longer term, we strongly agree with the BC Federation of Students, who in a recent statement noted how tuition (particularly international tuition fees) make up a significantly higher proportion of post-secondary budgets than they did 20 years ago, while the proportion of post-secondary funding provided by the BC government has declined dramatically. As CUFA BC’s recent report indicates, this growing over-reliance on tuition fees in the face of increased government underfunding has created the problem many post-secondary institutions are currently facing. Increased government funding for the post-secondary sector is the only viable solution to stabilizing and growing BC’s colleges and universities in ways much needed for the development of both a skilled workforce, and an educated citizenry that can address the challenges of both today and tomorrow.
While significantly increased government funding to the post-secondary sector is the only viable long-term solution, in order to mitigate the negative impacts of low international student enrolment, we suggest adopting the following near-term measures to stabilize employment and the financial situation in the post-secondary sector:
International Student Enrollment: BC post-secondary institutions, more so than any others in Canada, are dependent on revenues from international students. While this comes with complications, in the short to medium run, universities are highly dependent on these revenues.
We recommend the following measures:
- Secure Enrollment: Move rapidly to secure international student enrollment, providing certainty with immigration processes, and also guaranteeing access to postgraduate work and permanent residence options, providing quality classes, easing access to funding and housing, lowering costs, and incentivizing commitment.
- Ease Requirements: Ease some requirements for entry and experiment with tuition levels to secure international enrollment in what will be a highly competitive environment while retaining language requirements.
- Flexible Tuition: Lower tuition costs if deposits for tuition are made within a particularly rapid time frame.
- Admissions: Allow admissions on a rolling basis.
2. Stabilize employment to limit the impacts of low enrollment. Access to bridging funding or loans should be contingent on colleges and universities at least maintaining current employment levels.
- Provide bridging funding for the sector to help mitigate the near- and medium-term impacts of lower enrolments. This will ensure the fiscal sustainability of post-secondary institutions and enable them to continue to make major contributions to BC’s economy.
- Provide emergency temporary transfers to colleges and universities to ensure their available revenues remain consistent, accounting for revenue declines from reductions in international enrollment.
3. Retain sessional lecturers who are very much needed, particularly with the increased demand for trained graduates in health and technology related fields. In the latter fields it is becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified sessional lecturers, given low salaries and precarious employment.
- Encourage colleges and universities to support the conversion of sessional lecturers to more secure faculty positions, rather than laying them off to address short term budget crises, and thus creating further difficulties in the offering of crucial programs in both the short and longer term.
From Victoria to Duncan to Nanaimo to Courtenay and beyond, colleges and universities are major economic drivers for our Island communities. They provide education and employment, partner with and support local health care, develop research opportunities that create new businesses, work with local community and Indigenous groups, and attract students to our region who contribute to local businesses. Maintaining post-secondary employment and enrollment levels is crucial to keeping our economy thriving while contributing to our communities.
We understand there are many demands on government funding. However, given the crucial role that the post-secondary sector plays in ensuring that BC’s citizenry is informed about the realities of current social and political challenges, and trained for the opportunities of the future, our colleges and universities need stable funding, not funding that reliant on the shifting trends of international enrolments. A strong government commitment to colleges and universities would ensure that they don’t have to lay off staff, thereby decreasing the quality of education and creating a negative feedback loop that causes enrolments to decline further.
Kenneth Christie, President, CUFA BC
Tony Ferreira, President, CUPE Local 917, UVic
Daniel Gudino & Glenda Beecham, BCUWU, UVic GSS
Cliff Haman, 2nd Vice President, UVic Chapter Chair, Professional Employees Association
Richard Kool, President, Royal Roads University Faculty Association
Lynne Marks, President, UVic Faculty Association
Tiffany McLaughlin, President, CUPE Local 1858, VIU
Greg Melnechuk, President, CUPE Local 4163, UVic
Kirk Mercer, President, CUPE Local 951, UVic
Gara Pruesse, President, Vancouver Island University Faculty Association
Jen Wrye, President, North Island College Faculty Association