Campus 2020 initiative raises more questions than vision for BC's post-secondary education system

Amid much fanfare and media hype, Premier Campbell took to the podium at a press conference in mid-July to announce the launch of Campus 2020. The initiative will focus on the future of post-secondary education and bring forward recommendations for change in the Spring of 2007.

So far, so good. A comprehensive review of the public post-secondary system is something that our Federation has been pressing the provincial government to initiate for more than five years. The fact that the Premier was now prepared to take that initiative was certainly a step in the right direction.

However, the way in which that review is to be conducted and the extent to which those who work and teach in BC's post-secondary education system are being excluded from this process sends a troubling message to those of us concerned about the future of the public post-secondary education system. Instead of launching a review process that incorporates the experience of those currently teaching in the post-secondary system, Campus 2020 will be led by a former BC Liberal Cabinet Minister, Geoff Plant, and three academics from outside BC. Moreover, the review will concentrate much of its analysis on "the next generation of students" rather than address some of the urgent problems facing today's students.

Mr. Plant's role in Campus 2020 is still unclear. In public interviews he has described his role as facilitating, but his political history as a senior Cabinet Minister in the first term of the BC Liberals indicates his role will be far more than that. It was Mr. Plant, after all, who was at the Cabinet table when contract-stripping legislation was first drafted and enacted by the Campbell government in 2002. He was also part of the same Cabinet that approved the deregulation of tuition fees, a change which has created enormous access and affordability problems for thousands of current and potential post-secondary students. He was also part of the same Cabinet that allowed per-student funding in the post-secondary education system to stagnate during the BC Liberals' first term as government. To what extent he can be relied on now to chart a different course for post-secondary education that addresses the very problems created by a Cabinet that he was a part of is something only time will tell.

Of equal concern is that the other appointees to the Campus 2020 initiative appear to have little connection to the post-secondary experience in BC. While these three appointees may have valuable expertise in some areas, the fact that they have no direct connection to BC's post-secondary education system puts a serious dent in the accountability that must follow from any recommendations made by these appointees. As well, the decision to relegate important stakeholder groups to a role of "making submissions" means that post-secondary students, educators and administrators will be far removed from not only assessing issues, but also drafting key recommendations.

It's frustrating to read a government press release that quotes the Minister of Advanced Education saying,"we are now asking students, faculty members, educational leaders...to help develop a new educational framework," when real inclusion has been so carefully avoided in this process. By placing key stakeholders likes students and educators on the outside looking in, the government runs the risk of receiving recommendations that are either unworkable or unwarranted or both.

There is a better way to strengthen our public post-secondary system and it starts by using the talents, knowledge and experience of those who work within that system every day. Our Federation is certainly prepared to play a constructive role in any review of post-secondary education, but we want to know that the review is both balanced and reflective of all interests within our sector.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.