What NWCC needs to thrive

By Rocque Berthiaume, NWCC Academic Worker's Union

As a long-time professor at Northwest Community College, and as president of the Academic Workers’ Union, I would like to tell you about three steps that the BC Liberal government should take in their pre-election budget in order to allow NWCC to continue to be an excellent post-secondary institution.

First, we would like to see Minister of Advanced Education John Yap increase funding for post-secondary education in rural areas such as the Northwest. The BC government uses a per capita funding formula that is the same whether the student is in downtown Vancouver or downtown Smithers. An example of something concrete that the BC government should do for NWCC is change the funding formula to recognize that institutions such as NWCC face real financial challenges because of geography and because of the demographic make-up of the student body.

Changing the funding formula for rural colleges is important because, despite the BC Liberal government’s claims of increasing funding for post-secondary education, the numbers say that funding has fallen. According to the Canadian Association of University Teachers, in the last 20 years, the BC government has reduced funding by 26 per cent for each full-time student.

Second, given that the Northwest is going to be the site of many large industrial projects, we would like to see the budget provide funding for a total review of the Industrial Training Authority (ITA), with particular emphasis on increasing funding for apprenticeships. The ITA was introduced in 2003 to replace its predecessor, the Industrial Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC).

The new-model ITA is clearly a product of the too-close relationship between the BC Liberal government and industry, and its dropping of the word “apprenticeship” is an indication of its new orientation.  At Northwest Community College, the rise of very short-term training programs that focus on short-term work rather than apprenticeships and careers in the trades are proof of ITA’s influence. If LNG is going to be the savior of British Columbia’s economy, as Premier Christy Clark says it is, and if the Northwest is going to be the site of much of the LNG processing and transfer, the Northwest must get more out of it than a few short-term jobs. In order for this to happen, the BC government must take another look at the ITA.

Third, we would like to see the new budget provide more funding for the BC Jobs Plan, and we are not a voice in the wilderness on this. NWCC’s own study of its economic impact shows that the regional economy sees a $4 return for every dollar of taxpayer support to the college, that student annual income increases by $109 a year for every credit they complete at the college, and that the B.C. government saves $767,000 a year in costs associated with reduced needs for social programs in the College’s region.

For my colleagues and myself, putting more money in to the BC Jobs Plan is literally a no-brainer. As the president of CUPE BC, Barry O’Neill says, “Quality, affordable and accessible post secondary education system is a key element in the success of any Jobs Plan for B.C.”

These are three simple steps that the BC Liberals could take in their budget. But all any of us can do at this point is to continue to lobby the BC Liberal government to devise sensible policies that will lead to the kind of benefits that naturally derive from a healthy post-secondary education system.

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