B.C. Budget focuses on trades training, cuts to universities continue

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The 2013 B.C. Budget released on Feb. 19 offers few sustainable investments into post-secondary, instead opting to cut operating funds by $5 million in 2013–2014 as part of a total cut of $50 million to post-secondary schools’ funding by 2016.

Programs that do invest in post-secondary, such as the B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant that encourages early education savings for young children, as well as funds for replacing equipment in trades institutions, are one-time payments.

“I see an economic development plan that is to get natural gas out of the ground as quickly as possible instead of offshore as quickly as possible, and that’s it,” said Robert Clift, the executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C. (CUFA BC). “And that’s not a stable model, and it really doesn’t address the realities of value-added or knowledge economies, which is the way we need to be diversifying in B.C.”

The education savings grant, a one-time $1 200 grant paid into children’s Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP) after they turn six years old, is also not a sustainable investment according to Clift, who called the program a “cynical gimmick.” Technical institutes need the equipment replacements, but Clift said upgrades need to be regular.

“The idea on the one hand, that they’re giving us this equipment now but . . . cutting the total amount of money we have to deliver our programs to students, tells us that we’re going to have to wait for however many years again to replace that equipment,” said Clift.

Both the budget and the Speech from the Throne that was presented on Feb. 12 note the importance of skills training for B.C.’s economic development in the liquefied natural gas industry. Post-secondary skills and education are also important in the face of more than one million jobs that will open up by 2020, according to the B.C. Labour Market Outlook 2010–2020.

“We need to ensure that we prepare our students for the jobs that need to be filled,” said former Minister of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology John Yap, who stepped down from his post on March 4. “About 43 per cent of jobs coming at us in the next couple of years will require a trade or skill, and it’s very important that we continue to invest in trades training, not to say that other academic training isn’t important.”

Though the B.C. Budget outlines the province’s spending for the next three years, it may be revised by a new government depending on the results of the provincial election on May 14. A vote on the second reading of the B.C. Budget on March 5 passed with 45 MLAs in favour and 38 opposed.

Yap noted that the $1.9 billion figure for post-secondary institutions’ operating funds has increased 47 per cent since the Liberals took office in 2001; however, universities face a 2.5 per cent cut over the next three years.

“We’re still making major investments in areas like education,” said Yap. “Post-secondary education is still receiving about $1.9 billion in funding for the colleges and universities, which is very significant. We also are looking at ways for the 25 colleges, universities and institutions in our system to work more efficiently and find cost-savings through increased efficiencies.”

The deadline for universities to find $50 million in savings, originally mandated in the 2012 budget, has been pushed back one year. This translates into substantial cuts across B.C.’s universities totalling $5 million in 2013–14, $20 million in 2014–15 and $25 million in 2015–16. To prepare for this, a four per cent cut across all departments at UVic goes into effect April 1.

The government conducted an evaluation of how administrative services at post-secondary institutions could be streamlined and says that standardizing network software and shared purchasing of computers and freight services would save an estimated at $38 million to $83 million per year. However, the report says it may take up to six years for the savings to be fully realized.

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