Published in the Martlet (Victoria), 3 November 2000
An opinion piece appeared in last week’s paper supporting corporate involvement at UVic and suggesting free education is a pipe dream. “We pay about 20 per cent of our tuition costs,” the writer asserted. “Why is that not enough for some people?”
I’ve got an answer, but brace yourself for a lot of figures. Numbers are important when discussing public policy.
Tuition fees for credit courses totaled $35.7 million at UVic last year. Students paid an additional $10.3 million in athletics fees, non-credit tuition, and other supplemental fees. This amounts to $46 million – $46,045,000 to be exact – in tuition fees in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2000. Or 28.3 per cent of the university’s general operating revenue of $162,941,000.
But our president, Dr. David Turpin, says B.C. lags $55 million behind other provinces in base operating funding. With tuition frozen at 1994 levels – $2280 for a full, five-course load – a funding “gap” has emerged that is hurting the quality of education at UVic. Other provinces have increased tuition in the face of $7 billion in funding cuts from the federal Liberal government. But in BC, students successfully pressured government to freeze the fees.
Dr. Turpin thinks the Ministry of Advanced Education, Training and Technology would need to increase its base operating grant to UVic by a little over $7 million – to $112.5 million next year – to make up this lag, and bring UVic’s financial status up on par with other Canadian universities. In 1999, UVic received $105.4 million in operating revenue from the province to help cover such ongoing expenses as salaries, supplies, and heating bills.
But UVic needs more than general operating revenue. The university has identified between $250 and 275 million dollars in new spending initiatives for the next 6 years: a bigger, technologically advanced library; a First Peoples’ House of Learning; new lab equipment; and increased research money and student financial aid.
The university is considering launching a capital campaign to raise these funds from private sources, like the $200 million effort launched by Queen’s University last month. Dr. Turpin served as Vice President of Academics at the Kingston, Ont. institution before beginning his job at UVic this September.
At Queen’s, Dupont – the multinational pharmeceutical, biotechnology, and plastics firm – has just donated $2.5 million to form the Dupont Chair in Engineering Education Research and Development. Last year, Dupont’s Canadian sales increased by 12.3%, from $881 million to $989 million. The $2.5 million it gave to Queen’s accounts for a mere quarter of one percent of all the Canadian money the company took in. This transaction represents a sound business investment that will pay off many times over, rather than a benevolent donation from an altruistic corporation.
Dupont’s increased Canadian revenue from 1998 and 1999 would cover all tuition fees at the University of Victoria for 2.4 years. The value of its Canadian property – $482 million – would provide for every new spending priority, twice over. And this is just one of hundreds of massive corporations that conduct business in Canada.
The money is there. Only it’s in the hands of the private sector rather in the institutions where it’s needed.
Dr. Turpin must reject the model of corporate fundraising exemplified by Queen’s. If there is one place that private interests and the profit motive must be barred at all costs it is in the places in our communities where knowledge is created. It is dangerous to abandon independence, to restrict our ability as an institution to think and act critically.
Capital and resources should indeed be transferred from the private sector to universities, but not at the discretion of the company’s CEO through benevolent donations.
Funds should be forcibly transferred by government through progressive, aggressive taxation. The thriving Irish economy – where tuition fees were eliminated in 1996 – is testament to the fact that social spending and bold taxation does not necessarily impede prosperity. Indeed, throughout this century, it has been a major impetus, at times the only impetus, to prosperity.
The New Economy demands fully-funded, well-staffed, technologically advanced, and universally accessible centres of learning. And democracy demands that these institutions be publicly owned, funded, and administered.
As a first step, access to education must be entrenched as a democratic right of citizenship that will be provided for all who want it by government. Then attention must be turned to creating a guaranteed annual income source in the form of legislated public grants to both students and institutions – at levels sufficient to provide for the sustenance and growth of both the individual and the university. Creative forms of taxation need to be pursued.
The NDP government of Premier Ujjal Dosanjh will not reduce or eliminate tuition on its own. Despite party policy endorsing the idea, students will need to fight to reduce fees just as they fought to freeze them. It would be nice to have our President at our side.
Dr. Turpin should join students in demanding that the BC government invest an additional $11.5 million in the University of Victoria by January 2001 to reduce tuition fees by 25 per cent. Implementing this reduction province-wide would cost roughly $61 million. Similar increases should be made each subsequent January over the next four years until tuition fees have been reduced to zero.
Call me a dreamer. Call me a socialist. Call me a communist even. All I ask is, Why not?
Thirteen European countries do not charge tuition. Newfoundland provided free education in the late 1960s. British Columbia needs to commit itself to begin the elimination of tuition fees before the close of the Year 2000.