Enrolment increase on hold says Senate

by Gavin Wilson
Staff writer

Members of Senate say they will not give their approval to government-mandated increases in undergraduate enrolment until adequate funding is available to ensure the university can maintain high standards of education.

The Ministry of Education is withholding $2 million in funding for UBC because the university did not meet the ministry's targeted enrolment increase this year.

Victoria had requested a four per cent enrolment increase in 1996/97 and a further one per cent in 1997/98. UBC was also expected to make up a shortfall from 1995/96, when enrolment was four per cent under funded levels.

Meanwhile, the ministry has announced it will reduce UBC's operating grant to UBC by one-half per cent and has also frozen tuition fee hikes for a second year.

"I am wondering when someone will say, `Enough is enough -- we're taking too many students,'" said Paul G. Harrison, chair of the Senate Admissions Committee.

Dan Birch, vice-president, Academic, said the university was told to increase its enrolment by 3.2 per cent -- more than 800 students -- in the coming academic year or face further reductions in funding.

In the year just completed, UBC increased its undergraduate enrolment by six per cent, but that still fell short of Victoria's demands of an eight per cent hike. Total undergraduate enrolment was 26,773.

Birch said the Ministry of Education will withhold the $2 million pending the review of a "realistic" plan to increase enrolment submitted by the university.

"It is entirely appropriate for Senate to voice its concerns about the quality of undergraduate education, however, we have to consider the fiscal implications if we do not meet our enrolment targets," said Birch. He added that it is the Board of Governors that approves enrolment levels.

Many deans have objected in the past that mandated enrolment increases without additional resources adversely affected the quality of education.

"It is time that Senate made it known to this government that their way of funding universities and their claim that they are not cutting resources to universities is patently false. They are in fact compromising the education of students at this university through their policy of forced enrolment increases," said Science Dean Barry McBride, whom Senate selected to convey its message to Victoria.

McBride said effects on quality of education include larger classes, fewer labs, outdated equipment and increased reliance on sessional and part-time instructors.

This comes at a time when the university should be adopting curriculum to meet the changing needs of today's students, he said. For example, by giving them problem-solving, and not multiple choice exams and keeping class sizes smaller.

"Where are we going to get the opportunity to improve communications skills when our classes in third and fourth years have 200, 300 and 400 students in them? It goes up every year," McBride said.

The provincial government is asking for greater productivity and efficiency gains, but McBride said the university has already accomplished a great deal.

Citing examples in the Science faculty, he said 50 per cent more students are graduating today than in 1986, the failure rate has dropped to 2.7 per cent and the quality of students has never been higher. All this has happened with fewer faculty members and reduced funding, he added.