The University of Northern British Columbia has $400,000 less in its budget this year. We spoke to interim president Mark Dale about why, and what it means for the university's future, tuition fees, and the possibility of an engineering program in the north.
Listen to UNBC interim president Mark Dale in conversation with Daybreak's Andrew Kurjata
1. There's less money from the province
"There are a number of factors, but probably the easiest one to explain is that we have a reduction in the grant from the provincial government," Dale says. While that can be mitigated by working with other schools, "it's a bit more of a challenge for a small and relatively isolated university compared to what a university in the Lower Mainland might be able to do."
2. New universities in southern B.C. are siphoning off students that might have moved north
"Our enrollment is not increasing, and so the tuition is not rising." Dale says less young people are going to university as they are taking up jobs in the trades. He also notes that newer universities such as Thompson Rivers and Vancouver Island University are attracting students who may have once come north to UNBC. "I think when UNBC started the proportion of students that were from the south of the province was something like 24 percent, or certainly over 20. But now it's down to 10 percent or below."
3. There will be less jobs at UNBC
Dale says there are a number of vacancies at UNBC that will not be filled. While he wouldn't discuss which positions are being cut, he says they will be on both the administrative and teaching/research side. "I think it's across the board."
4. Tuition is going up
To help make up for the shortfall, tuition at UNBC will be going up by 2 percent, the maximum allowed by the province. "What a student would be looking at is an increase of about $96 a year."
5. Tuition is only one of the costs preventing more people from going to school
"The expenses that students face are many, and tuition is a relatively small component," Dale says. "We know, for example, that part of the reason students don't come from the south of the province is not wanting to pay rent and transportation and things like that."
6. As a young university, UNBC is able to offer less scholarships and bursaries
One way to help offset the costs of tuition is through scholarships and bursaries, but: "UNBC is at a bit of a disadvantage compared to other universities, though, in that it is relatively young. And so compared to small universities in the Maritimes, for example, which have been in existence for hundreds of years, they have built up through donations a number of endowed funds."
7. UNBC is going to focus on attracting international students, Albertans, and grad students
"[Alberta] has interesting problems of its own with funding being decreased, so we suspect there are students that are close to our natural catchment in Alberta that would be very interested in coming to a high-quality university like UNBC," says Dale. He also says the number of graduate students interested in UNBC is high for a small northern school and there will be more focus on them, as well as international students.
8. The value of a degree isn't going anywhere
Just because there is a focus on oil, gas and trades in B.C.'s economic strategy right now, Dale believes a university degree is as valuable as ever. "What is required is not just the people who are working on the pipelines, but the people who are doing the planning, the people who are looking after the infrastructure, the people who are looking after the people... there's a whole long list of professional skills that are required, and that's where universities come in."
9. There are still plans for an engineering program to be created at UNBC -- if the money can be found
"There is no way UNBC could come up with the number of positions internally that would be required to provide engineering. Engineering is relatively expensive to put on, it requires specialized infrastructure as well as highly-trained professionals to do the instruction. So it's not a cheap program to put on, but I think it's something that the north really needs and we've heard this from industry, we've heard it from the population in general. It's something that's needed and we would like to see it go forward, but it's going to require some investment on the part of the province."
10. More cuts could be coming
"I would like to say that I think they [funding issues] have stabilized, I don't think they have. We have been told that another budget reduction is certainly possible in the future." Dale says UNBC is now turning its focus to choosing its priorities for going into the future.