The quality of education at the University of Victoria hangs in the balance as hundreds of sessional instructors face mounting layoffs. When a sessional loses his or her job, it means students have lost a course.
As government continues to slash university funding, UVic continues to cut sessionals, creating larger class sizes, fewer course selections and shrinking teaching support.
In the past 10 years, provincial funding has dropped by 12 per cent. In February, the province announced more cuts to the university sector totalling $50 million over the next three years. In this climate of chronic underfunding, the Ministry of Advanced Education insists that UVic find “administrative savings” that must “not be aimed at students, education programs or research.” That’s easy to say, but the reality is that students, courses and instructors will all be adversely affected.
How important are sessionals? They are the linchpin of the entire university teaching system. Put simply, they make it possible to maintain and enhance the quality of post-secondary education. Sessional instructors are non-faculty employees who teach about 60 per cent of the first- and second-year undergraduate courses and about 40 per cent of all undergrad courses at UVic.
Sessionals are “inexpensive.” Ten students enrolled in a course cover the cost of a sessional’s salary, although sessionals teach several times that number. The majority are provided with few resources and no professional-development funds. Sessionals are dedicated, motivated and an incredible bargain for the university.
Let’s do the math: Fewer course sections equal larger classes. For example, English-composition course enrolment limits have risen by 40 per cent over the past decade, giving UVic the dubious distinction of having the highest class size for such courses in B.C. Larger classes mean declining enrolment, especially from foreign students.
In its annual university rankings, Maclean’s magazine noted that UVic already has a reputation for large classes, despite its high-quality ranking. The more sessionals are cut, the more UVic’s reputation will suffer.
Fewer courses also mean less selection and accessibility for students. It is already difficult for UVic students to complete a four-year degree in four years because required courses are often full. This bottleneck will only grow with more cuts.
We need provincial funding restored to adequate levels to ensure the quality of public secondary education in B.C. We owe that to today’s students, but also to their children — tomorrow’s UVic students.
Greg Melnechuk is president of CUPE Local 4163.