Tuition freeze not to blame for funding crunch

Report calls on government to rein in tuition fees, ensure new seats fully funded
November 18, 2004

(Vancouver) BC’s 6-year tuition freeze is not to blame for cost pressures in the post-secondary education system. During the freeze, which was in place from 1996/97 to 2001/02, real-per student funding for universities was flat and increased slightly for colleges. This is the central finding of a new report, which calls on the province to re-introduce the tuition freeze and restore per-student funding to 1991 levels.

Financing Higher Learning: Post-Secondary Education Funding in BC, released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, examines real (inflation-adjusted) provincial support for BC’s post-secondary system over the 1990-2004 period.

“The early 1990s saw the start of a much-needed expansion in BC’s post-secondary education system,” says Marc Lee, co-author of the report and economist with the CCPA. More than 40,000 seats were added to the system between 1990/91 and 2003/04 (a 38% increase, the largest ever in BC’s history).

However, real per-student funding has declined significantly since the early 1990s—by 21% for universities and 10% for colleges. Most of the decline occurred before the tuition freeze was introduced, at a time of rapid expansion in the post-secondary system.

John Malcolmson, co-author of the report and a CCPA research associate, says this is an important lesson for the current government. “The province should continue with its plan to create 25,000 new college and university seats between now and 2010. But it must adequately fund both the existing system and the new seats. Otherwise tuition will continue to skyrocket. This approach just reduces one barrier to post-secondary education — the number of seats — while increasing another.”

The report finds that tuition fees have jumped 76% (average inflation-adjusted) since the freeze was lifted as a way to relieve cost pressures facing universities and colleges. “Every hike in tuition raises the affordability bar higher for BC families seeking a post-secondary education for their children,” says Lee.

The report estimates that restoring per-student funding to 1991/92 levels would have required an additional $220 million in operating funding in 2003/04. To fully fund the promised 25,000 new seats, a further $200 million in annual operating funds will be required by 2010.