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View From TRU: Stable government funds help university

Here is a summary of the recommendations we made
Colukn head Brett Fairbairn TRU

Every year, B.C.’s standing committee on finance and government services tours the province and meets with stakeholders as the government considers future budgets.

And every year, TRU offers its ideas for funding priorities that government should think about.

TRU had its five minutes with the committee last week, during which we offered three recommendations for government to ponder. I emphasized for the committee that stable funding allows TRU to offer flexible, innovative and responsive programs for students, which helps meet community needs.

Here is a summary of the recommendations we made:

FUNDING STABILITY

Stable, transparent and predictable public funding enables universities to plan to meet regional and provincial needs. We ask the province to continue past practice of funding negotiated contract and wage increases so we can hire and retain a full and productive complement of faculty and staff.


Provincial block funding has long been and will continue to be a significant, stable source of revenue for B.C.’s post-secondary institutions (PSIs). This year, TRU is in negotiations with three unions (TRU faculty, Open Learning faculty and support staff) and expect resulting agreements to add to our operational demands.


It is our hope the province will continue to provide additional funding through provincial grants to cover negotiated increases, as it has in the past. External pressures (high inflation, pandemic recovery, work from home expectations, etc.) this time around could see larger increases to contract settlements than in previous years.

If PSIs such as TRU must cover negotiated increases from other sources of revenue, our ability to provide mission-critical service will be put at risk. TRU values being a publicly supported university, and strong, stable operating grants from the province are central to this.

TRU needs the province’s full support to carry out our mission.

GRADUATE STUDIES AND RESEARCH

B.C. and the Interior face critical talent shortages, particularly for graduates with specialized and professional training at the master’s level and above.

We ask the province to invest in graduate students, programs and research that meet community needs and the needs of provincial economic growth initiatives.

Graduate-level students play critical roles in B.C. and Interior communities in fields such as health sciences, data science, environmental science, business leadership and education leadership. Our businesses, not-for-profits and public institutions need these specialized skills to adapt to economic, social and climate change.

TRU recently announced a new master of arts in humans rights and social justice program, the development of which was self-funded. Also, our School of Law was created without any corresponding increase in government support. Creating advanced programs with government support would help PSIs develop professional programs that meet market and student demand.

Regarding research, TRU has worked hard over the past several years to develop our capacity for important community-based research. TRU professors are involved in research in areas such as natural disaster response and wildfire science, land reclamation, Indigenous wellness, early childhood education, homelessness and the opioid epidemic.

Initiatives that support graduate programs, students and faculty will be aided by targeted funding from the province. Our emphasis is on transforming knowledge into community action.

TARGETED INVESTMENTS IN PAN-PROVINCIAL PRIORITIES

Across B.C., institutions are working on key challenges such as regional development, a clean economy, mental health, climate adaptation and reconciliation.

We ask the province to dedicate funds to enable universities to have real impact in these or other priority areas.

Universities are often at the forefront of societal growth and change and discussion of the need for new programs, support and services related to regional economic development, a clean economy, climate adaptation, mental health, sustainability, accessibility and Indigenous reconciliation often emerge on campuses.

However, costs related to the implementation of such programs and services have grown dramatically, as they often require more staff, faculty advisors, counsellors and other support professionals.

No change to base grants has been made to account for these expenditures.

We see tremendous opportunity for PSIs to do even more work in these critical, socially important areas in the future, but doing so will require support from the province.

Targeted investments in these pan-provincial priorities will enable B.C. to grow and develop — both economically and socially — in ways that meet the future needs of our communities.

TRU values the opportunity to work with the government for the good of the Interior, all British Columbians and, above all, our students. Find a transcript of my presentation on the standing committees page online at https://www.leg.bc.ca.

Brett Fairbairn in president and vice-chancellor at Thompson Rivers University. He can be reached by email at president@tru.ca.