The British Columbia government did a great job of changing the channel on higher education this week.
If you recall, the B.C. government was facing a lot of attention for its recent changes to higher education; specifically, lowering the amount of funding for higher education.
In March, the B.C. government announced that it would be diverting funds from colleges and universities to high priority areas such as health care and skilled labour. Initially, it was believed this diversion would result in more funds for colleges to offer programs in these “priority areas.” This made it a non-story. Not many people paid attention. After all, it was only $16 million in funding changes, and the money wasn’t disappearing.
It became clear at the beginning of April, however, that the changes were not a diversion of funds, but actually a funding cut. The BC Confederation of University Faculty Associations (CUFA) pegged the figure at close to $50 million. UBC alone faces a $15.8 million cut between its two campuses. Overall, each B.C. college and university is facing around 2.6% less in government funding for the coming school year.
Once it became clear that the BC government was cutting funding instead of prioritizing funding, the negative press began, and continued over the last few weeks.
This week, the government acted.
No, it did not reverse the cuts.
Instead, it changed the channel by announcing changes to the status of three university colleges to universities.
University College of the Fraser Valley was renamed University of the Fraser Valley, Kwantlen University College becomes Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and like magic, Malaspina University College will be called Vancouver Island University.
It was a great magic act by the government. Everyone loves universities and everyone wants one in their backyard (preferably without students but that’s another post).
The government claims these announcements were planned in advance and are merely following up on the recommendations of the Campus 2020 report which recommended the changes.
Funny thing is that for a government that suddenly preaches out of Campus 2020, I can’t help but note (much like the poor Christian I can be) they seem to be ignoring the sections about properly funding these new universities.
So, I’m left to conclude that the announcements that BC has three new universities amounts to nothing more than a gigantic smoke and mirrors rebranding exercise meant to change the media channel.
The Christian Science Monitor, one of my favourite publications, last week wrote an editorial favourable to the current trend to improve the number of students from low-income backgrounds at America’s most selective universities.
It appears that the story of missing Carleton University student Nadia Kajouji is coming to a tragic end. Ottawa police confirm that a body found early Sunday morning in the Rideau River is that of a female.
David Frum, a former speech-writer for US president Bush and frequent contributor to the National Post, says the crisis in undergraduate education is similar to the current housing crisis in the US.
He believes that a “crash” may be coming in undergraduate education if problems in the sector are not solved.
“Surging prices, collapsing returns, ending in a crash — housing? Yes, but the pattern may equally apply to another area of middle-class aspiration — college education,” Frum said on American Public Media’s radio show Marketplace.
Frum argues that the value of an undergraduate degree, in purely economic terms, is decreasing while the price increases.
He points to the explosive growth in degree holders as one of the main causes. “The proportion of Americans with a college degree continues to rise. As more and more job applicants hold degrees, have employers become more discerning about what exactly those degrees represent?,” he says.
Frum says the solution to the problem is not to hide the cost of higher education behind more loans and government subsidies.
I disagree with Frum’s assertion that the government should not be funding more supports.
I agree that one of the problems in higher education is the continuing inflation in higher education costs and the fact this inflation is well above the rate in the real world.
He makes a good point, the average economic return from an general undergraduate degree is down; however, as one who enjoys the opportunity to pursue that return, the potential returns economically are well worth the risk involved in the investment.
Queen’s University principal Dr. Karen Hitchcock announced she is resigning at the end of the month, after less than four years as the executive head of the Kingston, Ontario university.
“After much reflection, I have decided to withdraw my request for reappointment and, with regret, will be stepping aside as principal and vice-chancellor effective April 30, 2008 in order to ensure a smooth transition,” Hitchcock said in an email to the Queen’s community.
Her resignation comes on the same day that a nine-member advisory committee, made up of members of both the university’s board of trustees and senate, was expected to release its recommendation on Ms. Hitchcock’s reappointment.
Hitchcock faced pressure to resign from the Queen’s community, cumulating in the beginning of March when the undergraduate student government unanimously called for Hitchcock not be appointed to a second term as principal.
Hitchcock has been under fire for a recent construction project. In April 2007, Queen’s University — under Hitchcock’s leadership — embarked on its largest ever construction project called the “Queen’s Centre.” Originally budgeted to cost $230 million, the project is significantly over budget. The first phase of construction was $41 million over budget and the fundraising goal of $132 million for the project is unlikely to be met.
An outsider who came to Queen’s after serving as president of the University at Albany, State University of New York, Hitchcock’s vision for Queen’s University has failed to fully be accepted by the Queen’s community. The student government expressed concern about Hitchcock’s attempts to make Queen’s an internationally-focused research-based university. They were concerned this focus would hurt Queen’s traditional focus on undergraduate education.