Following pre-election pressure in 2012 to balance the provincial budget, non-profit societies and educational institutions are asking for more money from the B.C. Liberal government.
The select standing committee on finance and government services appeared in Kamloops on Wednesday, part of a tour of 17 communities that MLAs appointed to the group will make this fall.
Requests for more money were headlined by Thompson Rivers University, which sent student, faculty and administrative representatives to the hearing at the Holiday Inn Express in North Kamloops.
Faculty association president Jason Brown said a funding squeeze has caused the university to cut corners by hiring more temporary and part-time instructors. In some cases, it is not hiring replacements for faculty on leave or who those who have left.
Naming education in horticulture, culinary arts and meat cutting, Brown said the university has told faculty “get the job done without tenured replacements or face closure.”
Brown said the lack of funding increases at TRU is leading to a stressful work environment. He noted the fact that four deans have left the university, without fulfilling their contracts, in the past eight months, what he called “probably unprecedented in the province.”
University president Alan Shaver repeated a call by TRU for a change to provincial accounting standards, first brought to the committee more than years ago by then-president Roger Barnsley.
Shaver noted under current practices, TRU couldn’t build its student residence complex because debt is now added to the province’s books. The building, a public-partnership, is entirely funded by the university.
The TRU president asked for “an exception” to the accounting rule.
“It’s the kind of thing government can do and it wouldn’t cost the government anything.”
Committee chairman Dan Ashton, a Penticton MLA, said the theme of opening up the provincial pocketbook is a familiar one, particularly in education. While last year, there were calls for balancing the budget, Ashton said there is now “pent-up demand” for social spending.
“Demand for continual funding and increased funding is a challenge to government,” Ashton said.
Ashton said calls have been made to lower interest rates paid on student loans, more student aid and investment to rebuild aging campuses.
The committee, comprised of members of both the Liberals and NDP, will present a report to the legislature with recommendations on the next provincial budget to Finance Minister Mike de Jong.
Shaver said the university is shortchanging its graduate students because there is no provincial money for the programs.
He warned B.C.’s best graduate students are being lured to other provinces due to lack of fellowships here.
Shaver also warned student demand in trades is outstripping program capacity.
“Applications for trades went up 50 per cent. People are getting the message. We’re seeing students vote with their feet. We’re constrained by not having enough resources.”