The president of Capilano University says if the provincial government goes ahead with planned cuts to post-secondary education, she will have to consider cancelling whole programs as soon as next year.
Kris Bulcroft was among 25 university and college presidents who signed a Feb. 28 letter to Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto.
"It is critical for government to understand that the $70-million reduction to institutional grants over the last two years of the fiscal plan, combined with five years of unfunded inflationary pressures, creates a strain on the operations of post-secondary institutions," the presidents wrote.
"It is particularly concerning that in Budget 2012, the post-secondary sector is the only social sector to receive an absolute budget reduction, with the inference that other sectors, such as health, have taken action where we have not."
The letter writers represent all of the province's public post-secondary schools.
"These are really tough times for post-secondary in B.C.," Bulcroft said. “The public doesn't really understand we have in fact been taking cuts every year. We've had seven years of no inflationary increases. We've had flat budgets. But nonetheless our costs continue to go up. Every year we've had to find ways of meeting those inflationary costs — energy, labour, these sorts of things. We've been slowly slipping backwards."
Capilano, which has campuses in North Vancouver and in Sechelt has worked to find administrative savings over the past years, Bulcroft said, including such things as refusing to process tuition payments via credit card.
"I wish I could say there are more savings to be found. We are one of the smaller universities and one of the most poorly funded. I really do feel we are at the end of finding every last spare or not-so-spare penny,” she said.
Bulcroft said what worries her and her peers most is a staged $70-million province-wide cut to the ministry's operational grant program over the next three years. Capilano received a $37.8-million grant last year, which represents about 55 per cent of the university's budget. There has been no word from the province about what the cuts will look like at the school level.
"If these cuts come to be, within the next year or so we'll have to start at looking at closing whole programs," Bulcroft said. "It doesn't make good sense in my opinion to do across-the-board cuts. What happens is that the overall quality of the institution begins to decline.”
Based on her experience at American universities, Bulcroft said broad-based cuts lead to fewer classes and tougher access to courses required to complete high-demand programs.
"Students end up having to take five, six years to complete a degree because they can't get into the courses they need. It eventually passes the costs off to students," she said.
Demand, students satisfaction and job placement success would the main criteria in picking what programs wind up on the chopping block. Bulcroft stressed that Capilano students will not see any decline in the quality of the programs still offered. "I don't want the public to panic," she said.
Yamamoto said that B.C. spends about $5 million every day on its post-secondary system, and can boast a "world class system due to the hard work the presidents have done."
But she disputed the presidents' reading of the budget plan, arguing there is a slight up-tick in the grants this year to cover deferred maintenance, and said the staged cuts that follow add up to $50 million, not $70 million.
The minister also pointed to the Liberals' track record of capital investment over the past decade.
"The capital investment made over the past 10 or 11 years has been record investment, almost $24 billion," she said. "It's not a policy decision. It's reality. We know that some of them have incredibly good reputations for providing some types of education. That's what they should be focusing on. But they can't be all things to all people."