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Student demand outpaces government funding at UFV

UFV vice-president Eric Davis with a group of students at the Abbotsford campus. - John Van Putten
UFV vice-president Eric Davis with a group of students at the Abbotsford campus.
— image credit: John Van Putten

A slowed B.C. economy has sent jobless people, young and old, back to school.

That, combined with the attraction of attaining full university status in 2008, has the University of the Fraser Valley operating at above capacity.

UFV vice-president academic Eric Davis says the province needs to step up with more money.

“Without more government funding, there’s not much more we can grow,” said Davis. “We’ve reached the limit.”

He said for two years there has been no funding increase at UFV. There are long waiting lists for some classes. As many as 400 students had to wait to get English 105, where there is the most pressure, and there are also queues for courses in business, criminology, psychology and others.

Waiting for courses means students have to delay their graduation, or look elsewhere.

Riley Hyland, a second-year engineering student, told The News he was only able to get two courses for the spring semester. A full course load is five per semester, so the pace of his education has been set back. He wanted to get his first two years of school at UFV, but will move on.

“I’m going to UVic (University of Victoria) next year, and hopefully it’s better there.”

“I was wait-listed for every single (course),” said first-year student Christeen Cote, who couldn’t get English 105 or biology.

She said students who are taking general studies rather than being on a specific program generally get wait-listed for every course.

“I’ll just have to wait longer to finish,” she said.

Chris Brink, a sciences student, said he was fortunate to get the courses he needs, but has many friends who have been frustrated. One, he said, has been forced to simply take the fall semester off.

“It’s the social sciences where it’s really, really packed,” Brink said. “We need more buildings. We need more teachers.”

There were also numerous students who told The News they were wait-listed, but eventually got all their courses. Those in programs, and the university offers many, including nursing, dental assistant and aircraft technician, are generally able to get the courses they need in a timely manner. However, those taking general studies may face challenges.

Davis said by the year’s end, the university, which in addition to the main campus in Abbotsford has others in Chilliwack and Mission, will have provided space for as much as 105 per cent of the full-time equivalent (FTEs) for which it receives provincial funding. Victoria funds 6,645 FTEs, although total enrolment is listed at 15,500 full-time and part-time students.

In any case, Davis said provincial funding does not cover the full cost of educating a student. Victoria funds about 57 per cent, tuition another 25 per cent, and the balance is covered through other revenue sources, including the premiums paid by international students, continuing education programs, and even the campus bookstore.

Money isn’t the only problem.

“We’re running out of space,” said Davis, “but there’s no support for more building right now in the province.”

He said the Fraser Valley is one of the fastest-growing population centres in the country, and the demand for courses at UFV is only going to increase.

“We would like a bigger slice of the pie,” he said, and added that the institution has been making that case to government.

“I understand the fiscal state of the province,” said Davis. “(But) post-secondary education is crucial to the development of the province.”

Ida Chong, the minster of science and universities, clarified that government has not frozen university funding, but is wrestling with a recessionary economy.

“There is not a policy to freeze funding for universities,” she said. “We are not out of the recession.”

Chong pointed out that in 2001 UFV was receiving $33.5 million in operating grants, while now it is up to more than $53 million.

“That’s a substantial amount of additional dollars, and additional spaces,” said Chong, adding that UFV also recently received funding for the Canada Education Park campus in Chilliwack, which is a $40-million facility.

The province acknowledged the global recession would create need for career changes and skills upgrades. Victoria added $131 million in funding to B.C. post-secondary institutions to create more student spaces for the 2010 school year.

Chong said post-secondary institutions in the Lower Mainland are full. Admissions standards at UBC have been steadily rising for the past 30 years, as a huge number of applicants compete for a limited number of seats. For practical purposes, the standard for the 47,000-plus seats is set by academic achievement, and students now need an “A” average to get in. Ten years ago the standard was 80 per cent, but this year it is up to almost 87 per cent.

Every college and university in the province wants more funding, said Chong.

“That’s natural, they all want to grow and compete.”

It’s up to government to set priorities. Victoria has put extra resources into specific “priority programs” where there are shortages of trained workers, such as nurses and medical technicians.

She said there are other options to deal with waiting lists, other than government adding more funding, such as students looking at other institutions where they can take programs or courses they need.

Chong said the provincial budget that is coming down today (Tuesday) is generally a “status quo budget overall,” including for the university sector. The Liberal government will leave it to the new premier, who will be selected by the party on Feb. 26, to increase funding or institute any changes.

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