Vancouver faces stark contrasts between funding for K to 12 and university

Vancouver, the city of disparities, is faced with polar opposites in its educational system. 

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Wheeling and dealing, the Liberal government is robbing Peter to pay Paul, demoralizing Petra to pump up Paulette.

UBC appears to be throwing money around like it grows on Endowment Land trees. With the Vancouver real estate boom, it does.

The short history of UBC at 100 years is that it was born spoiled with a sizeable estate in 1915-1916 and remains spoiled in 2016-2017.

Through the stroke of a pen in 1858, Queen Victoria created the colony of British Columbia and transformed First Nations traditional territory into Crown Land. In 1907, an amendment to the BC Land Act granted 3,000 acres (5 sq. miles) to a University Endowment.

UBC property sits precariously on unceded Musqueam territory aggressively developed by settlers into prime Vancouver real estate over the past century and most aggressively since 1988 when the UBC Real Estate Corporation (Properties Trust) was established. In 1994 UBC converted 200 acres of its campus and Endowment Lands into condo and shopping centre development.

By 2003, as University Hill Secondary school was crammed and the urban plan expanded, so flush with cash was the university that its Properties Trust offered to bankroll renovations to its National Research Council (NRC) building and charge the busted VSB a monthly lease. In 2008, the Liberals stepped in, effectively saving the university from a $37.9m renovation.

The Vancouver Schools have had to defer $700m of building maintenance costs while UBC has announced plans for an $822 million building boom on it campus, with generous commitments from the Ministry.

As in real estate goes demographics: from boom to bust, the empty seats in Vancouver schools will inevitably be empty seats in the university. Like the VSB, it won’t be long before UBC begins to schedule the closure or demolition of empty academic buildings, that is, if someone opens the doors to realize there’s no one inside.  

With more and more faculty members preferring to work at home, save for staff, empty offices are making hollow buildings the norm.

The Ministry is now threatening to fire the School Board for suspending school closure and demolition plans but when the University Board colludes to hide decisions from access and scrutiny the Ministry looks the other way.

Vancouver is now desperate to resolve the deepest school finance crisis and worst university administrative legitimacy crisis in 100 years. False distinctions between the two or the success of one at the expense of the other are at the root of the crises. 

It’s the story of Vancouver: Broke and barely making it versus fixed, rich, and laughing all the way to the bank: 99% versus 1%.

 Stephen Petrina and E. Wayne Ross are professors in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

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