Campus 2020 recommendations out of step with public opinion

Just over a year ago the provincial government launched a review of BC's public post-secondary education system. It was called Campus 2020 and it was led by Geoff Plant, the former BC Liberal Cabinet Minister from 2001 to 2005.

Just over a year ago the provincial government launched a review of BC's public post-secondary education system. It was called Campus 2020 and it was led by Geoff Plant, the former BC Liberal Cabinet Minister from 2001 to 2005.

The review would address some of the major problems facing BC's post-secondary system. Its recommendations would hopefully put BC on the path to solving some of the critical skills shortages that exist and, ultimately, strengthen BC's capacity to grow sustainably in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy.

Thirteen months and several millions of dollars later, what do we have to show for all of that review? Not much. On key questions like affordability and access, Mr. Plant's recommendations offer little comfort to the thousands of post-secondary students trying to cope with rising tuition fees and growing debt. His only suggestion on that front is to allow tuition fees to increase even more. For public post-secondary institutions struggling with chronic under-funding, Mr. Plant's recommendations give no indication that the under-funding problem will be solved any time soon.

Just as troubling, Mr. Plant suggests that the degree granting status of our community colleges be stripped, a move that puts into serious doubt their future.

Even more disturbing are Mr. Plant's recommendations for changing the governance structure within our public post-secondary system. Instead of opening that system up for greater public input into key policy decisions, Mr. Plant proposes changes that would limit that input. In fact, Mr. Plant's recommendations for post-secondary education look suspiciously like the reforms that the BC Liberals used in health care, where they forced massive consolidation, privatization and virtually no opportunity for public or stakeholder input.

The Campus 2020 recommendations are certainly out-of-step with mainstream public opinion. An August Ipsos Reid poll showed that about 60 percent of British Columbians think tuition fees are too high. That percent figure has increased steadily since 2002 when the BC Liberals allowed tuition fees to skyrocket.

The Ipsos poll also shows strong support amongst BC voters-86 percent of those polled-for the government to invest more in public post-secondary institutions as a way to address the province's growing skills shortage.

The only good news at this point is that the provincial Minster of Advanced Education is still evaluating the Campus 2020 report recommendations. BC needs to strengthen its commitment to public post-secondary education and the Minister can take the first step in that direction by recognizing the shortcomings in the Campus 2020 report. He can also show that commitment by making the necessary investments in our public system, investments that will make it more affordable and more accessible. He can also send a strong message to both students and public post-secondary institutions by supporting governance changes that respect the need for local autonomy and degree-granting status.

It's never too late to make the right decisions. Hopefully, the Minister recognizes that point and will work with students, faculty and the broader public to strengthen our public post-secondary system in ways that work for everyone.

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.