The Universities Coordinated Bargaining Committee (UCBC) has been working since September to promote a campaign to raise awareness on the post-secondary education budget cuts in B.C. and their impact. The committee is made up of nine Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members from six universities in the province.
“We were just trying to raise awareness, just to get it at least out in the public. I really don’t think a lot of people give much thought to university funding, unfortunately,” said CUPE 4163 President Greg Melnechuk, the committee’s UVic representative.
According to Melnechuk, cuts over the past five to eight years include elimination of need-based grants, a 15 per cent decrease in sessional lecturer funding, and more. In 2014’s budget, three-year total student operating grants dropped by nearly $50 million. These cuts lead to fewer courses, more populated classes, and instructors who are forced to “cobble” together work to make a living, according to Melnechuk.
“There have been incredible cuts to universities. Unions and universities might not see eye-to-eye, but on this, we’re totally in agreement that universities can’t function with the cuts that have occurred,” he said.
Since the B.C. Liberals took office in 2001, student tuition fees have increased more than 80 per cent, forcing students, “the people who can least afford to have money taken out of their pockets, because they don’t have the money in the first place,” to make up for these cuts. “That’s a huge worry,” Melnechuk said. “Are they setting this up so that only people with money are going to be able to get a post-secondary education?”
Some cuts are shortsightedly aimed towards the maintenance of university physical infrastructure, Melnechuk said. Because of this, funds are insufficient to properly maintain university buildings and deal with maintenance problems. “That is a big bill that’s going to come to taxpayers and students years down the road—it’s a lot cheaper to maintain something than it is to have to repair it or replace it a few years down the road,” he said.
Maintenance costs can affect cleanliness in buildings at UVic and post-secondary schools around the province. “How often do the janitors go around? [It’s] not enough as they used to, because there aren’t as many janitors,” he said.
The UCBC started a petition asking supporters to email Amrik Virk, the Minister of Advanced Education. According to Melnechuk, these cuts will continue. “It will be ongoing—the Liberals have made that clear,” he said.
In an email to the Martlet, UVSS Director of External Relations Greg Atkinson referred to the cuts as “a clear message to students, faculty, and the university staff and administration that the B.C. government has no plans to make post-secondary education a priority.” Atkinson believes that students should be concerned at the government’s lack of value for post-secondary education in B.C.
The petition and campaign aim to start a dialogue, and aren’t meant to be an “in-your-face” campaign, Atkinson said. According to Melnechuk, funding will be focused on trades rather than faculties such as humanities or arts in the near future. As of the end of November, the petition has less than 50 signatures.
“They’re doing students and the province a huge disservice with these short-sighted cuts,” Melnechuck said.