The B.C. legislature's select standing committee on finance heard pitches for more money last week from representatives of the province's universities and colleges.
The economy is still struggling, revenues are down and expenses are up. Governments at all levels are trying to balance budgets, and frugality with the public purse is the order of the day. Why should the committee heed requests for more funding for post-secondary education?
Because it makes sense. Education is the path to stability, prosperity and growth.
One of the presentations to the committee came from the Research Universities' Council of B.C., comprising the University of Victoria, the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University, University of Northern B.C., Royal Roads University and Thompson Rivers University.
Before meeting with the all-party committee at the legislature, presidents David Turpin of UVic, George Iwama of UNBC and Stephen Toope of UBC met with the Times Colonist editorial board to make the universities' case for more funding. It's needed, they said, not to feather the nest of academics, but to meet the province's needs.
Over the next decade, said Turpin, there will be one million job openings in the province. Nearly 80 per cent of those will require some sort of post-secondary accreditation in the form of degrees, diplomas and certificates. By 2020, the demand for workers in the province will outstrip the supply by more than 60,000 people.
To help meet that demand, the universities are asking the province for funding for 11,000 more students at all post-secondary levels, and a more comprehensive student financial-assistance package, providing more grants, an improved load-reduction program and $15,000 scholarships for 1,000 graduate students. Those measures would require about $180 million in new funding over four years.
It's not a huge amount - the province already spends nearly $2 billion a year on post-secondary education - and it would help many students get into school who otherwise would be unable to afford it, or who would go out of the province for higher education.
It's easy to trot out anecdotes about all those PhDs who are waiting on tables, and that sometimes happens, but solid statistics show that education is strongly connected to higher income and a better quality of life.
Those with post-secondary credentials not only earn more, they contribute more in taxes and draw less on social services.
Holding a degree or a diploma is not an ironclad guarantee of high-paying employment, but without education, the chances are remote of finding anything but unskilled work and low-paying jobs.
Without education, people are poorer. With a better-educated workforce, B.C. will be richer, not just economically, but culturally and socially as well.
As legislators cast about for ways to create jobs and boost the provincial economy, they should consider carefully what the university and college presidents are saying. Opportunity doesn't happen, it is created, and education is one of the best ways to create opportunity.
© Copyright 2013