2013 Budget Submission
The Graduate Student Society and Simon Fraser Student Society Presentation to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services
September 20, 2013 | Vancouver, BC
Together, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) and the Graduate Student Society (GSS) represent the 30,000+ students currently studying at Simon Fraser University. We are pleased to appear together here today to present our joint and individual priorities for post-secondary education in British Columbia broadly and for Simon Fraser University specifically. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of BC for their commitments to The Knowledge
Economy and BC’s Skilled Workforce. In particular, we would like to express gratitude on behalf of all BC post-secondary students for the $1.9 billion investment in advanced education. We would also like to thank the Government of BC for their innovative investment in the UPass program and encourage strong continued investment.
We are here today to present our ideas related to funding for:
- A Provincial Graduate Scholarship
- The SFSS’s “Build SFU” Initiative
- Improved Transit to SFU
- Deferred Maintenance at SFU
- BC Open Textbook Program
Given that this is a number of focus areas, we have also distributed copies of our in-depth Provincial Graduate Scholarship and Deferred Maintenance reports.
Reinvest in a Provincial Graduate Scholarship
The proposal for a Provincial Graduate Scholarship represents the collaborative work of the Graduate Student Societies at Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Northern British Columbia.
A BC Graduate Scholarship that is available to both domestic and international students, such as the formerly established Pacific Century Graduate Scholarship, will help BC become the preferred destination for the world’s best student-researchers. These students contribute immeasurably to the province, both during their studies and after.
Ontario, Alberta, and many states in the US have chosen to support students attending their universities with dedicated graduate student scholarships. We appreciate the Province’s commitment to creating jobs that future generations can depend on. We feel that strong graduate students contribute to this goal by supporting creative research that can innovate our approach to the skill-trades & business, knowledge-production, health care, and even taxation.
As graduate students are researchers at the forefront of their fields, supporting graduate student education facilitates the innovation and technological development needed to maintain BC as a leader of emerging industries. Natural resource sectors, the historic backbone of BC’s economy, also benefit from research-driven innovations that improve efficiency, productivity and sustainability. In addition to promoting growth, graduate education promotes stability during economic fluxes. Between 2008 and 2010, during the worse economic downturn in decades, unemployment of those with higher education increased by only by 1.3%, compared to an increase of 3.7% for those without an upper secondary education across OCED countries.1 In Canada specifically, tertiary graduates had an employment rate that was 26 percentage points higher than their counterparts with only a high school education or lower in 2010.2 Higher education supports employment even with uncertain labour market conditions.
Our proposal is for a BC Graduate Scholarship that would provide $15,000 a year for 1,000 graduate students, which represents 6.0% of the total graduate student population in BC. We are only asking the BC Government to fund 65% of the total program cost of $15 million, the other 35% being made up through institutional fundraising. See Figure 1 below for a comparison of graduate scholarships, by province.
Figure 1. Cross-provincial Scholarship comparison
We ask the Committee to:
- Review the enclosed Graduate Provincial Scholarship package, and
- Recommend that the Ministry of Advanced Education work with BC’s Graduate Student Societies to implement a graduate scholarship program by 2015/2016.
Help Students “Build SFU”
The Simon Fraser Student Society has undertaken the largest student-led project in its history. This initiative, called Build SFU, is a $65-million project to construct a Student Union Building and stadium at our Burnaby campus. The Simon Fraser Student Society has not requested funds from the BC Government or from Simon Fraser University for Build SFU and does not plan to do so. Students have taken it upon themselves to improve campus facilities for future generations of students. Commencing January 2014, funding for the Build SFU project will be collected through a levy, which will be capped at $90 per semester in 2022.
Given the structure of the Build SFU levy, financing will be required to complete the project on schedule. In conjunction with Simon Fraser University, the Simon Fraser Student Society has extensively consulted with financers for the Build SFU project. After approaching numerous financial institutions, we have encountered hesitation to provide financing for the Build SFU project because the University is currently unable to provide an income guarantee. While it would be possible for the SFSS to secure funding independently, we are confident that this will result in higher levels of interest. While the exact interest differential is currently unknown and may appear insignificant from the outside, it is the SFSS’s priority to ensure that student dollars are devoted directly to the building and maintenance of this legacy project, rather than being diverted to paying down the interest accrued on loans. We see it as our role to protect the significant investment that students have agreed to make in the project.
Simon Fraser University wishes to provide this income guarantee for the Build SFU initiative, but as a government reporting entity they will require support from the Ministry of Finance in order to do so. An exemption to the government reporting entity rules prior to the annual audit would need to be granted for Simon Fraser University. We recognize the solution to this problem is complicated. We also acknowledge that the inclusion of post-secondary institutions in the GRE is a very complex and non-partisan issue, which will require dedicated work from all parties to resolve in a mutually agreeable manner. This issue is further complicated by the impacts that these reporting rules have on our private industry partners. Currently, post-secondary institutions are limited in their ability to work with these partners on large-infrastructure projects, which results in a potentially significant job loss across BC.
Support for the knowledge economy is one of the Government of British Columbia’s stated priorities. Given that, once completed, Build SFU will improve the student experience and elevate Simon Fraser University's status as a school of choice in Canada. We feel that the Build SFU initiative complements the knowledge priority. Furthermore, as Build SFU will be entirely financed by students, it will not impact the Province’s balanced budget. We therefore feel that the Committee should support the Build SFU project as a means of enhancing the valuable investments that have already been made in post-secondary institutions like Simon Fraser University. As such, we ask the Committee to:
- Request that the Ministry of Finance work with Simon Fraser University and the Simon Fraser Student Society on an exemption to the government reporting entity rules for Build SFU
Provide Funding for Improved Transit to SFU
Effective and reliable public transit is an important complimentary public service for post-secondary institutions across the country. Public transit is of especial importance for Simon Fraser University as we are a university with three campuses that span from downtown Vancouver, to Burnaby, to Surrey. Also, SFU’s original campus (which remains an administrative hub for all SFU students) is located at the top of Burnaby Mountain.
In 2011, 69% of students who attended SFU relied on public transit to get to and from school.3 The average commute time for SFU students is around 47 minutes, compared to a national average of 25 minutes (see Figure 2 below).4 The 2008 to 2012 Annual Undergraduate Surveys demonstrate both students’ interest in and dissatisfaction with transit to SFU; improvements to transit are consistently listed within the top ten factors that would ameliorate students’ university experience.
The high proportion of SFU students who take public transit to school emphasizes that an effective transit system is a critical component of the extended network of services that support post-secondary education in BC. Furthermore, given the commitments made by both Canada and BC in regards to carbon emissions, we would ideally like to see an increase in transit-usage amongst all SFU students, faculty, and staff.
The SFSS and the GSS met with Translink and City of Vancouver staff to discuss transit to SFU directly. Some of the topics discussed at that meeting were: lack of evening and weekend service to SFU on specific routes, safety for students using transit to access SFU in the downtown east side and SFU Burnaby in inclement weather, and the proposal for a Burnaby Mountain Gondola. We were dismayed to hear that even adding a stop to increase student safety on a route would require new transit resources and therefore could not be considered at this time.
We are aware that the Government of British Columbia has discussed hosting a Translink-specific referendum. We have been encouraged to hear from Translink that should such a referendum be successful, at least one SFU-specific transit project would be a considered a top priority. We therefore stand in support of a transit referendum and commit to advocating amongst our memberships for a positive result. In the absence of a referendum, we encourage the BC Government to recommend other sources of funding for Translink so that the already impressive transit infrastructure in BC can be further developed and improved.
The most extensive transit project that has been discussed in relation to SFU is the Burnaby Mountain Gondola (which we are eager to re-brand as a “Skybus”). As early as 2012, the demand for transit to Burnaby Mountain could be greater than what frequent bus service would be able to provide.6 According to Translink, “there is a strong economic justification for proceeding with the [Burnaby Mountain Gondola] project.”7 Furthermore, they estimate a time-savings of 40 minutes of daily travel time, in comparison with the current bus service to SFU.8 While the project does have an up-front cost, there is an annual cost differential of only $480,000 annually, over 25 years, between the building and operation of the gondola and the cost of expanding current bus service.9 Finally, buses that are no longer required to service the 145 route can be redeployed to other areas and therefore improve overall transit coverage in the lower mainland.
While we recognize that the allocation of funding specific to Translink may be subject to the results of a public referendum, we believe that increased funding of public transit generally remains an important issue. Vancouver’s ambitions to be Canada’s “greenest city” make transit improvements particularly crucial for our city and for the region’s students who represent a key ridership. However, we also wish to emphasize that students are far from the only beneficiaries for improved transit, including improved transit to Burnaby Mountain. SFU has over 5,915 employees10 and Burnaby Mountain’s UniverCity is in the process of expanding from its current 3,500 residents.11 This could represent an important stakeholder group for transit-use in BC, but they may well chose other forms of transportation if funding for transit does not allow for service expansion and improvement.
We ask the Committee to:
- Request that the provincial government increase funding for public transit, and
- Support increase transit service for all three Simon Fraser University Campuses, as well as transit improvements across BC
Address Deferred Maintenance at SFU
Deferred maintenance refers to the routine repairs and upkeep required to keep buildings operating normally that have been postponed later than would be usually acceptable. The deferral can occur for many reasons, but most often it is due to financial limitations. Funding guidelines suggest that an investment of between 1.5% and 3.0% of the replacement value of a building should be made to properly maintain it and to avoid a deferred maintenance problem. Deferred maintenance has become a serious problem for many post-secondary institutions, as well as hospitals, elementary and secondary schools, and government buildings in British Columbia and across Canada.
At SFU, deferred maintenance has become a major concern. In April of 2011, SFU published a 5-Year Capital Plan, in which addressing deferred maintenance was listed as a priority. The Capital Plan estimates that $20 million would be needed yearly to maintain these buildings and to make necessary upgrades.12 This could actually be a conservative estimate given that the total estimated replacement cost of the buildings at SFU Burnaby is approximately $1.8 billion. Using even the lowest funding guideline of 1.5% of the replacement value, this would mean that SFU Burnaby would require $27 million yearly, simply to maintain the status quo. The Chief Facilities Officer of SFU Burnaby has indicated that SFU Burnaby currently has urgent deferred maintenance needs for the academic buildings alone totally approximately $160 million. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)13 self-report estimates that there is over $700 million in deferred maintenance needs for all SFU buildings in Burnaby.
The provincial government formerly provided annual funding, called the Annual Capital Allowance (ACA), to post-secondary institutions specifically for maintenance. In 2008/09, the ACA for SFU was $4.6 million; however, in 2010, this was reduced to only $501,031.15 As a result, SFU has been forced to make up the funding shortfall from the general operating budget or by deferring maintenance.
In the 2013 BC provincial budget, $1.9 billion was allocated for deferred maintenance to ensure the longevity of the provinceʼs assets.16 A total of $2.2 million of this funding has been targeted specifically for deferred maintenance projects at SFU. Although this is a substantial and welcome injection of funding, it remains unknown how much of this funding will be directly designated for the serious maintenance issues at SFU.
While the long-term goal is adequate, guaranteed funding for deferred maintenance, there are many other steps that can be taken to address deferred maintenance which will not impact the Province’s balanced budget in the short term. At the highest level, we feel that all publicly funded infrastructure should be built with a maintenance plan in place, which details funding across the building’s lifespan. We recognize that the provincial government is juggling many priorities but feel strongly that researching and establishing plans for investment into deferred maintenance would be a significant contribution to BC. Additional recommendations regarding deferred maintenance at SFU can be found in the enclosed package.
We ask the Committee to:
- Provide the SFSS and the GSS with additional information concerning the $2.2 million invested in SFU’s deferred maintenance for 2013/2014, and,
- Publicly express support for addressing deferred maintenance issues in BC including supporting the issue in Caucus and encourage the discussion of deferred maintenance issues on the legislative floor, and,
- Recommend that the BC Government provide immediate short-term funding to address the most severe and urgent deferred maintenance issues at SFU.
Continue to Fund The BC Open Textbook Program
The BC Open Textbook Program is a Government of British Columbia initiative aimed at producing free resources for students in the place of standard textbooks. Open textbooks promote inclusivity and equality within education by reducing the barrier of textbook costs. British Columbia is the first province in Canada to commit to funding the movement toward open textbooks.
British Columbia’s then Minister of Advanced Education, Innovation, and Technology announced support for the creation of open textbooks in a press release on October 16, 2012.17 BCcampus, a publically funded group, is developing the BC Open Textbook Program.
The initial phase of the program sought to create open textbooks for 40 of the most popular first- and second-year courses amongst British Columbia’s post-secondary students.18 These courses are taught at almost all of British Columbia’s post-secondary institutions and the program is therefore expected to benefit over 200,000 students.19 To date, 15 textbooks have been produced that have been found to be of high quality by instructors in post-secondary institutions. Recently, the Ministry of Advanced Education committed to funding the creation of 20 more open textbooks.20
Of the most popular courses identified, many require a textbook that costs upwards of $100, up to $200, in the traditional printed format. Open textbooks can be accessed at no charge digitally or produced in print for about $30.21 According to some research conducted in the USA, were the average post-secondary student able to utilize open textbooks for all classes, s/he would save 80% on the cost of course resources.22 In a comparable program run through the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, students saved $5.5 million between October 2011 and April 2013. Total student savings as of April 2013 were demonstrated to be more than triple the initial $1.8 million investment in the project.23
As students we feel that open textbooks represent a strong and creative solution to some of the present barriers to post-secondary education. We also feel that the Province’s investment in this program has put it on the forefront of this educational technology, and wish to commend them for taking this bold and innovative step. In light of the Province’s existing investment in the BC Open Textbook Program, the program’s demonstrated success, and the potential future benefits of malleable, affordable course resources, we ask the Committee to:
- Recommend that the Province provide sustained, long-term funding for the BC Open Textbook Program, and,
- Support an annual funding increase such that the BC Open Textbook Program receives $1.8 million per year by 2015/2016.
We thank the Committee for their time and welcome further discussion about any and all of these proposals. If there is anything we can do to be of service to the Committee throughout this budget consultation process, please do not hesitate to contact us.
External Relations Officer, Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS)
778-782-3870 - firstname.lastname@example.org
1 OECD, Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators (OECD Publishing, 2012): 13, http://www.oecd.org/edu/EAG%202012_e-book_EN_200912.pdf
2 Statistics Canada, Education Indicators In Canada: An International Perspective (Ottawa: Canadian Education Statistics Council, 2012): 42, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-604-x/81-604-x2012001-eng.pdf
3 Canadian University Survey Consortium, 2011 Undergraduate University Student Survey: 12, http://www.sfu.ca/content/dam/sfu/irp/surveys/cusc/cusc2011reportSFU.pdf
4 Canadian University Survey Consortium, 2011 Undergraduate University Student Survey: 12.
6 Burnaby Mountain Gondola Business Plan: iii, http://www.translink.ca/~/media/documents/plans_and_projects/rapid_trans...
7 Burnaby Mountain Gondola Business Plan.
8 Burnaby Mountain Gondola Business Plan.
9 Burnaby Mountain Gondola Business Plan.
12 SFU 5 Year Capital Plan, pg. 36.
13 NWCCU Self-Report, pg. 119.
14 SFU 5 Year Capital Plan, pg. 36.
15 Knowledge Infrastructure Program website.
16 NWCCU Self-Report, pg. 119.