Community college layoffs reflect lack of commitment to northern economy
BURNABY—With an unemployment rate in northern B.C. sitting at 11.5 per cent and layoffs looming at northern colleges, the B.C. government’s vaunted BC Jobs Plan is failing northern communities, unions representing post secondary workers said today.
The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the Federation of Post Secondary Educators (FPSE) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) blame declining post secondary funding and restrictive accounting practices for budget deficits at two northern colleges. Dozens of faculty and support staff have been given layoff notices or Section 54 notices that layoffs will occur. Educational services to local aboriginal communities may also be affected by the service cuts.
“Education is one of the most effective economic investments we can make in rural communities, but the B.C. government has failed to make post secondary education a priority,” says BCGEU president Darryl Walker. “It looks like the government’s B.C. Jobs Plan has bypassed northern communities.”
Walker noted that per student post secondary funding in B.C. is now 15 per cent below 2001 levels. At the same time, new budget rules prevent post secondary institutions from using past surpluses to cover short-term deficits. Northwest Community College has an accumulated surplus of about $2 million, but can’t use the funds to offset a projected $1.7 million deficit. Northern Lights College also faces a deficit of about $1.6 million for the coming year.
“Northern communities rely on the jobs and economic activity that our post secondary institutions generate for the economy,” says FPSE president Cindy Oliver. “Every dollar invested in post secondary education is multiplied many times over in economic benefits to local communities.”
An economic impact study prepared for Northwest Community College shows that the local economy realizes a $4.00 return for every dollar of taxpayer financial support to the college. Students see annual incomes increase by $109 per year for every credit completed, and the B.C. government saves social costs amounting to over $767,000 a year.
“Underfunding education and deregulating tuition fees has placed a huge financial burden on our post secondary system and has made education unaffordable for many students,” says Walker. “It’s time to reinvest in our post-secondary education system, to support local communities and provide skilled workers to our economy.”
“An educated workforce earns higher wages, pays more taxes and generates greater economic activity for our society,” says Barry O’Neill, president of CUPE BC. “A quality, affordable and accessible post secondary education system is a key element in the success of any Jobs Plan for B.C.”
Union representatives continue to meet with college management, staff and instructors to mitigate the harm caused by these layoffs.