COLUMN: Kwantlen students paying price of budget shortfall

The province should take a second look at demands to trim KPU budget, writes Frank Bucholtz

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has become a significant success since it was carved out of Douglas College in 1981. Now it is facing some budget shortfalls, and thus far, it appears to be students who are paying the price.

It is very much a Surrey institution, although it also has campuses in Langley and Richmond. The vast majority of students attend one of three Surrey campuses; its offices are in Surrey; and its presence in Surrey is much more significant than in other communities that it serves.

The university is a fairly unique one for B.C. and Canada. It offers traditional academic courses, but it also has a long history of offering trades, technical and professional training. This has left it very well-positioned for the future, with trades training becoming much more prized, and with professional training taking on much more importance as technology radically changes workplaces.

Its newest campus is located in the heart of the City Centre area, using five floors of the Civic hotel. This space will be used quite differently from what is often the norm in universities. The campus will feature “non-traditional academic days,” meaning classes start early, end late, and there will be classes on Saturdays. Classrooms will also have movable tables, and gathering spaces for students to break into groups and have private discussions.

Programs will be, for the most part, post-baccalaureate programs.

“One of them in technical management and services, another one in operations supply chain management, another one in accounting, then we have two graduate diplomas, and they are even more sort of high level, intense. One in green business management and the other one is in green business management and sustainability,” says Salvador Ferreras, provost and vice-president academic.

“They’re all very topical things, especially for Surrey which is leading the way on a number of sustainability practices,” he adds.

However, expansion costs money. Even though the university’s budget is growing, to allow it to offer more programs, it is still facing a budget shortfall of about $12 million.

The 2019-20 budget calls for spending of $226 million, an increase of about $23 million from the previous year. Nonetheless, it also has to find savings. The two programs under the microscope are the music program, based in Langley, which has a long history of excellence, and the farrier program, a program based at the Cloverdale campus. The program began in 1981.

Neither program is being scrapped, but the university is proposing cancelling “intakes.” It has already cancelled intakes of new students in the music program in September, as well as the spring and summer of 2020. KPU is now looking at cancelling the intake in the farrier program in September as well.

Students are not impressed. Music students have already held a rally (with music, of course) at Douglas Park in Langley City on March 24, and attracted the support of the city’s mayor, Val van den Broek.

Faculty are not impressed either. A statement from the Kwantlen Faculty Association political action committee says, “This is not a scarcity budget, except for faculty members and programs.”

Cuts at Kwantlen don’t make sense, considering that the whole Kwantlen region is the fastest-growing in the province. It should also be remembered that the Surrey area has one of the highest populations of young people anywhere in B.C. The province should take a second look at demands that the university budget be trimmed by $12 million.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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