Last week the provincial government announced more funding for Langara College and Vancouver Community College, but critics say the new money has to be seen in a larger context.
In a Aug. 22 press release, the Ministry of Advanced Education pledged $2.2 million in upgraded infrastructure and operational systems for Langara, most of which ($1.7 million) is to replace the fire alarm panel. Langaras vice president of administration Roy Daykin said the panel was still safe but getting on 40 years old. He added that Langara is now working on a new long-term facility plan.
A day later, the ministry announced $4.6 million in capital funding for the downtown and Broadway campuses of Vancouver Community College. It also pledged $632,000 more in one-time funding for trades training in the Vancouver region. The two college presidents praised the new funding.
A year ago Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto admitted to the Courier that, although cutbacks to its "annual capital allowance" (since renamed the Routine Capital Fund) had occurred, a few years earlier the provincial government had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the ACA fund, and $10 million had been given to VCC to upgrade two buildings. VCC marketing director Helen Carkner said the $4.6 million this month is new money, above the $10 million noted then.
Officials at the VCC and Langara student unions could not be reached for comment, but Katie Marocchi, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students B.C. branch, called the funding an announcement timed to coincide with back to school. There is an election coming next spring, she said. Its a one time spurt of block funding to those two colleges, but in reality the overall B.C. capital funding for post secondary education in this years budget is down $1 million from last year, and operating funds are down nine percent.
NDP advanced education critic Michelle Mungall said the Liberals plan to cut post secondary education by about $70 million over the next two years. And cut capital funding in next years budget, as we can see from their own budget books, she said.
Daykin believes, on the contrary, capital funding will rise over the next three years.
This announcement concerns only capital funding, not operating budgets. Last February, all of B.C.s college and university presidents wrote a joint letter to the minister to protest funding cuts in the latest provincial budget. While expressing thanks that new funding has been provided for deferred capital maintenance, they still complained that the post secondary sector is the only social sector to receive an absolute budget reduction.
In July 2011 the Courier revealed how VCC had paid KD Engineering Ltd. for 31 years until 2006 to manage its buildings. A review in 2007 noted many safety violations at VCC and that "much of the maintenance and upkeep of electrical facilities and mechanical equipment at both [VCC] campuses reflected general neglect over a long period of time."
Carkner said there is no connection between those older problems and the new funding. VCC has done a comprehensive safety audit a number of months ago, and all identified deficiencies have been addressed, he said. KD will not receive any capital funding.
KD has managed Langaras buildings since 1994, with its contract due to expire in 2015. Langara officials said different KD staff work at Langara than the ones that managed VCC, and they are content with their work.