UFV president Mark Evered and 24 other university and college presidents are warning the B.C. government it won't be "business as usual" if $70 million in budget cuts to post-secondary institutions goes ahead.
"We must be clear that it is unrealistic to assume that the reductions contemplated by Budget 2012 can be achieved without implications for service levels," Evered and other post-secondary presidents said in a Feb. 28 letter to Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto.
New Democrats called the letter an "unprecedented" act that highlights the serious need for post-secondary education or training that 80 per cent of job openings in B.C. will require over the next decade.
"We're basically looking down the barrel of a gun," Michelle Mungall, the NDP's advanced education critic, told The Progress on Friday. "But we don't have enough people trained to meet that demand."
But Evered used gentler language to describe the letter, calling it a "reminder" to the B.C. government that UFV and other post-secondary institutions are already operating on a "no frills" basis.
And program cuts or restrictions on student admissions could be the next cost-saving steps.
"My biggest concern here is … (student) demand exceeds what we're able to provide," Evered said in a telephone interview.
"I'm worried we're not going to have the space and the instructors for them."
The letter contradicts the BC Liberal government's claim that the $70-million cut from the budget over the next three years can be made up by administrative savings.
Evered said the letter was sent so the government "recognizes we will be forced to make some tough decisions, and it won't be business as usual."
"We wanted to remind the government that we've actually been dealing with (these) challenges for a few years," he said. "We've been prudent. We've been frugal."
He said UFV is committed to providing easier access to a post-secondary education for Fraser Valley students, who are already less likely than others in B.C. to attend university, but "we've got a ways to go to catch up" because of the costs involved.
There are already wait-lists for students seeking admission to UFV, he said.
Mungall, who was touring several Fraser Valley schools last week, including UFV, said the fact that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has declared the growing skills shortage as the number-one challenge to the competitiveness of the Canadian economy, should be a wake-up call for the BC Liberal government.
"We already have students being shut out of the excellent opportunities being offered by institutions like UFV because they simply can't afford the cost of tuition and living expenses," she said.
"Forcing post-secondary schools to make cuts will only decrease accessibility."
She said an NDP government would create a $100-million fund for non-refundable student grants, paid for by re-instating a tax on big banks that was cut by the BC Liberals in 2008.
Evered said he would be "delighted" if the presidents' letter caused a government turnaround, but he conceded the chances of that happening are "slim and none" given the competition for tax dollars going to health care.
However, he hoped the letter will result in a "collegial discussion" with government, and coupled with a "sector-wide" discussion among post-secondary institutions to find cost-saving measures, positive solutions will be found.