Unhappy Senate bows to mandated increase

by Stephen Forgacs
Staff writer

UBC's Senate recently voted to "reluctantly" and "grudgingly" accept a government mandated increase in enrolment of 3.2 per cent for the coming year. The vote was a reversal of Senate's decision in April to refuse to accept further enrolment increases without an accompanying increase in funds.

Senator and Science Dean Barry McBride said a refusal to accept the increase would have left the faculties in an even worse predicament than the one they face this fall.

"Clearly Senate was unhappy to have to reverse its decision not to accept any more students, but we felt the consequences were worse if we didn't. The dollar value was just too much," he said.

Prior to passing the motion regarding enrolment, Senate amended it to read: "that Senate reluctantly approve and grudgingly recommend approval by the Board of Governors of the proposed enrolment plan, quotas and targets of the various faculties and schools . . ."

The Ministry of Education, Skills and Training is withholding $2 million in funding from 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 of Education, Skills and Training has announced it will reduce UBC's operating grant to UBC by one-half per cent and has also frozen tuition fees for a second year.

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.

McBride said he and Birch have met with senior ministry staff and are arranging to meet with Education, Skills and Training Minister Paul Ramsey to convey Senate concerns about the impact on academic quality.

"We want to express our very real concerns about the impact of what are essentially severe cuts in our budget and our ability to deliver quality education, and to carry out our mandate as a major research university," McBride said.

"We want to assure the minister that we have been particularly effective in increasing our efficiency . . . We have done our part in making this as efficient an operation as we can. There just isn't any room left to cut anymore without seriously compromising research and teaching."

Prof. Paul G. Harrison, chair of the Senate Admissions Committee, said Senate's decision not to resist the enrolment increases will have major implications for the university next fall.

"In first-year courses we're going to see the same sorts of problems that were caused by increases last year," he said, adding that last year's bulge of first-year students will now also pose a challenge as they move into second year.

McBride said that the rising cost of "doing business" -- in terms of materials, staffing and other operating expenses -- coupled with enrolment increases and flat funding have led to fewer labs and larger class sizes in the Faculty of Science and fewer resources for students. The Faculty of Arts and other faculties face similar challenges.