March 12, 2021 - No. 16

Increase Funding and Social Responsibility for
Post-Secondary Education!

Funding Crisis Must Not Be Used to Attack Professors, Staff and Students and Undermine Social Responsibility

Vigorous Campaign Supports English as a Second Language Teachers

Increase Funding and Social Responsibility for Post-Secondary Education!

Funding Crisis Must Not Be Used to Attack Professors, Staff and Students and Undermine Social Responsibility

The Alberta government's 2021 budget, presented by the United Conservative Party (UCP) in the Alberta Legislature on February 25, is a further attack on the right to post-secondary education (PSE). In October 2019, the UCP announced plans to reduce PSE funding over four years. With this budget's cut of 7.9 per cent in operating grants or $135 million, the overall UCP cut to PSE has now climbed to $690 million with more cuts yet to come. This is justified by the UCP's twisted neo-liberal logic that money invested in PSE is "spending" while handouts to the UCP's private corporate backers constitutes "investing." Completely contradicting the UCP, a recent study by University of Alberta economists estimated the university's annual economic contribution to the province at about $15 billion.

Post-secondary education in Alberta has long been underfunded. For decades after 1945, governments provided over 80 per cent of the funding. At one time, the federal government was committed to providing half of the post-secondary operating expenses of the provinces. Over time, the federal share has diminished considerably. In 1992-93 the federal government's contribution (adjusted for inflation) was $3,291 per student while in 2015-16 it had dropped 40 per cent to $2,007 per student. This declining federal share coupled with provincial cuts has led to increases in the revenue contribution from tuition fees, which climbed from 16 per cent in 1985 to 40 per cent in 2015. The other funding increase was in "strings-attached" private investment from corporations and wealthy donors, with increasing erosion of public control.

The UCP is now urging that PSE institutions should "generate more of their own revenue" which is basically code for "sell out further to the corporations." Student tuition and other phoney add-on fees of various kinds have steadily increased over the years, except during legislated fee freezes as was the case under the previous provincial government. The UCP government is now allowing fees to increase annually by a maximum of seven per cent, a change that many PSE administrations are already taking advantage of. Statistics Canada states that from September 2019 to September 2020, Alberta's tuition fees increased the most in Canada. The upshot will be decreased access to PSE and more student debt, now estimated to average over $20,000 per student. All this while there are many countries where students pay no tuition fees at all. There is also the shameless use of international students as a cash cow by governments and post-secondary institutions. These students are charged exorbitant tuition fees which are said to sustain the institutions. All of this funding crisis and anti-people and anti-social neo-liberal solutions underscores that a serious matter for discussion is how post-secondary education in Canada could be funded in a manner that is sustainable and serves the needs of a modern society which humanizes the social and natural environment while upholding the rights of all. It can be done using all manner of pro-social self-sustaining means which everyone can participate in working out. 

A feature of neo-liberal attacks to post-secondary education is to replace administrators who were in the past responsible to meet pedagogical aims with experts in enforcing budget cuts. This explains why recent UCP budget cuts have been met with a total lack of opposition by the PSE institutions' upper administrations. While faculty, students, and staff have resisted and upheld the right to education, administrations have simply capitulated and concocted ways to "adjust" or "restructure." Ignoring the institutions' academic missions, restructuring has included firing hundreds of staff, eliminating important programs, removing courses, merging departments, closing libraries, neglecting maintenance, and so on. The administrations and the UCP ludicrously claim that all this is having no negative effects on student learning!

The UCP's attacks on the post-secondary institutions are facilitated by their agents on the inside. In August 2019, the UCP government fired a number of members of these institutions' boards of governors and replaced them with 44 of their own appointees, without following due process. Many were from the heavily subsidized private energy sector. For example, Nancy Laird, a 30-year energy executive, was appointed the new Board Chair of online Athabasca University. While corporate representatives (euphemistically known as "public members") have always occupied board of governors' seats, the UCP blitz was the first time a government implemented a simultaneous mass imposition of corporate members across many institutions.

Throughout the current restructuring process post-secondary administrations have held no meaningful consultation with faculty, staff and students. The University of Alberta's academic association (AASUA) stated on November 20, 2020: "We have not been provided access to any of the detailed data, financial projections, benchmarks, and calculations underlying the entire U of A for Tomorrow process. Furthermore, we have been denied seats at the tables where the analysis is being discussed and the options are being designed and considered." Other Alberta post-secondary institutions are also excluding faculty, staff and students from decision-making.

UCP budget cuts and other attacks on the right to higher education reveal how Alberta's research universities are more and more becoming the direct handservants of private industry. The UCP government openly states that the most important PSE research is the most easily commercialized. Much university research for private interests is done by stealth and kept secret and much of it violates the academic integrity of the institutions where it is taking place. Alberta research universities fund projects where highly educated university staff do the research, but the vital decision-making power is held by the private monopolies and, in the end, the results benefit the corporate sector who acquire it on the cheap.

Finally, like zombies rising from the grave, performance based indicators (PBIs) are once again being proposed by post-secondary administrators as a way to determine how much funding an institution should receive. Suggested indicators include graduate employment and income rates, international and domestic enrolment, and administrative expense ratios. This idea first became the vogue in the Reagan/Thatcher era, one aspect of the neo-liberal movement to transform universities into businesses, complete with the top down structures favoured by corporations. PBIs are intended to drive down the costs of the production of education, which is why they are always accompanied by relentless budget cuts. Those who push PBIs basically believe post-secondary institutions should slavishly serve the monopolies and anything not measurable by numbers, e.g., critical thinking, is worthless and therefore should be ignored.

Affirming the right to post-secondary education, requires not just summing up the current situation but also putting forward concrete ideas for change. One such program could focus on implementing the following guiding principles. These are not meant to be exhaustive.

1. Recognition and legislation of education as a right which all people have by virtue of being human.

2. Continuously increasing investments in education.

3. Funding based on student needs and social responsibilities, not predetermined neo-liberal budgets.

4. An end to privatization of education and elimination of private enterprise's stranglehold over decision-making on matters which concern who education serves.

5. Elimination of all user fees.

6. Accountability measures which reflect the needs of a democratic society.

7. All staff to have the working conditions, and all students the learning conditions, necessary for the provision of quality education.

8. Meaningful input of all staff, and where they are directly affected, students, into decision-making processes.

9. Mandatory labour education and Indigenous studies courses, created by the labour movement and Indigenous nations, respectively.

10. Establishment of a free, quality comprehensive public education system accessible to all.

It is critical that unity of faculty, staff, and students within and among the post-secondary institutions is developed in the course of taking action with analysis to change the situation. The anti-education forces want to divide faculty, staff and students by pitting them against each other. Blaming each other plays into the hands of neo-liberal governments in the service of private interests, no matter what cartel party is in power, and their subservient administrations, and lets them off the hook when they are the ones who have created the current situation. Again, instead of standing up for the right to education, the upper administrations have caved in with phoney restructuring plans which are designed to attack full- and part-time faculty and staff, causing serious harm to post-secondary institutions' academic missions. Northern Ontario's Laurentian University has gone so far as to go into insolvency protection, which is a known scheme to shift the burden of the crisis onto the backs of the working people with a restructuring plan designed by narrow private interests to serve narrow private interests. Laurentian has hired Ernst and Young (EY) whose reputation of restructuring to get rid of full-time positions and pensions is well known to the Stelco and other workers across the country. What is taking place means we must all hold to account both the upper administrations of the post-secondary institutions and governments, such as the UCP government of Alberta, the Ford government in Ontario, as well as the federal government, for their nation-wrecking activities.

As is the case everywhere in society the key question facing everyone is, "Who decides?" The current system of governance at the post-secondary institutions disempowers the faculty, students, and staff when they are the ones in whom decision-making should be vested, not some appointed corporate hacks with zero stake in the academic mission of the institutions. We must end the phoney "consultations" where faculty, students, and staff try to have their say but are subjected to a predetermined agenda and predetermined results, and treated as enemies of the institution's viability when they stand up for the rights of all and solutions based on taking social responsibility. Faculty and staff are also determined to end the token representation on administration committees that eventually do as they please and ignore any input from those qualified to make claims on who education should serve, how those aims should be met and under what conditions.

By opposing changes in governance, tuition hikes and so on, faculty, students and staff are already taking social responsibility for post-secondary education in various ways. The defence of our rights and the rights of all should guide the resolution of academic problems in a manner that genuinely enhances the quality of student learning and meets the needs of society, not those of narrow private interests. By empowering themselves to wage this fight, taking over making decisions collectively on all matters that affect our lives becomes a new normal. Organizing to exercise control over the post-secondary institutions and their academic missions is the way forward to building academies and societies that  serve the continuous nation-building interests of the working people at home and abroad.

Next Week: Laurentian University's Use of Insolvency Protection to Restructure at the Expense of Faculty, Staff and Students

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Vigorous Campaign Supports English as a Second Language Teachers

Teachers at International Language Schools Canada (ILSC) in Vancouver are calling for support in their fight to keep their jobs. The English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers are members of the Education and Training Employees Association (ETEA) which represents about 200 teachers in Metro Vancouver. Since 1995 when the union was organized, teachers have achieved wage increases and improvements in their working conditions. Now the company is using the conditions of the pandemic to justify taking away teachers' gains and to terminate them en masse. The ETEA is part of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC which reports that ILSC is the only language school with an ETEA bargaining unit that did not reach an agreement on extending recall rights as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. ILSC did make an agreement with their teachers in Toronto to extend their recall rights, an agreement it is refusing to make with its teachers in Vancouver. The teachers' campaign slogan is "Extend Recall Rights for ILSC Vancouver Teachers, TOO!"

The current collective agreement provides for recall rights for 12 months for teachers who are laid off. In April 2020, when it became clear that in this extraordinary situation the provisions of the collective agreement would not be adequate, the union approached the ILSC management to negotiate the extension of recall rights but the company would not do so. About six weeks later the company approached the union with a proposal to re-open the contract (in the middle of a four-year term) to amend some aspects related to working conditions. The workers did not agree with the proposed amendments, whereupon the company, 10 days later, offered to extend recall rights in exchange for the amendments to working conditions that it wanted. Discussions continued without resolution and in the Fall of 2020 the company notified the union that the extension of recall rights was no longer on the table and that they would be implementing the changes that they wanted unilaterally, having found some legal justification to do so.

Most ILSC students are international students and current enrollment is reduced by about 90 per cent. So far, 10 teachers have been terminated and 20 more will have reached the end of their 12-month recall period by May 1. It is estimated that up to 53 of the 75 teachers that were working at the time of the pandemic-related closure would be terminated by October. The school has stated in writing and verbally to teachers it has let go, that they are free to re-apply once the recovery begins to happen but, if re-hired, would lose all seniority rights, vacation entitlements, benefits and position on the pay scale.

The ILSC Vancouver teachers have organized a variety of actions to inform people of their situation and encourage everyone to put pressure on ILSC. As of March 11 over 1,250 people had signed their online petition. Past and present students and teachers have joined in a social media campaign and other actions are organized for the week of days of March 15.

To support the ILSC Teachers:

- Sign and circulate the petition;

- Visit and post on the Friends of ILSC Vancouver Teachers Facebook or Instagram pages.

(Photos: ETEA)

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