The provincial New Democrats are taking the Minister of Advanced Education to task for leaving Capilano University one of the worst-funded schools in B.C. — and for ignoring pleas from a longtime Liberal MLA to discuss the problem.
David Eby, Opposition critic for advanced education, rose in the Legislature April 10 and produced a letter from West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan prodding Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk to meet and discuss the formula the province uses to determine how much funding postsecondary institutions receive.
"I regret to remind you that as of today, you have failed to respond. .. to a letter sent to you last August requesting a detailed briefing of the funding model applicable to Capilano University," Sultan wrote. "We are now approaching the six-month mark."
In an interview, Eby lauded Sultan for quietly going to bat for CapU.
"Thank goodness there's at least one person on the Liberal side who cares about the fact Cap is so underfunded and that people on the North Shore and in Squamish are paying the price for the school being so underfunded," Eby said.
At $6,232 per student, only Langara College's per-student funding is lower out of all 24 colleges and universities in the province. The school's board of governors cut a swath of programs last year and is preparing to reduce operating budgets for the school this year, thanks to budget deficits.
Virk has maintained that CapU's funding is justifiably lower because the school offers less costly programming compared to other schools where more expensive, technical courses are taught. But neither Eby nor Sultan has been able to find what numbers the province is using to justify the funding regime.
"The government says there's this formula. They say the funding makes sense. When you ask them to defend and produce the formula to explain the basis for it, they can't. That's what Ralph's letter is all about," Eby said. "There is no formula. That's the truth of it. I'm so tired of hearing from the ministry about this formula that doesn't exist."
Sultan has since met with Virk and has given up on trying to pin down the formula as well.
"I finally realized, there is no equation," he said.
Eby said the ministry ought to come up with a formula that makes sense for the schools "so they know what they have to deliver and that is connected to the actual cost of the programs they are delivering."
At the very least, CapU should be getting equal per-student funding to the next lowest university, Kwantlen, Eby said.
Sultan, however, argued funding should be even higher.
"I think, given the taxes we pay on the North Shore, CapU should be funded at the median of all the other universities. That's my position," he said.
Asked if he was worried about making waves within his own caucus, Sultan was dismissive.
"Oh god, I've been here 13 years. I stopped worrying about that a long time ago," he said, adding he's not trying work against his own government. "To point out some inequities, that's fair game. All MLAs are expected and required to advocate for their constituents. That's all I'm doing."
In a statement, Virk said the North Shore's MLAs all sat down with the ministry to discuss CapU last November.
``They all understand government is committed to balancing the books and making better use of tax dollars, while they advocate for the very best funding that can be provided for their local university," Virk said. "Staff in my ministry continue to work with staff at Capilano regarding those pressures, financial sustainability and program impacts."