Thursday, March 6, 2014

Skeena MLA Austin raises many questions regarding NWCC in Legislature Committee Session

Questions surrounding recent events at Northwest Community College, made their way into the British Columbia Legislature this week.

As Skeena MLA, Robin Austin made a number of inquiries on the theme of the college to the Provincial Government's Minister of Advanced Education, Amrik Virk .

Mr. Austin, who called on some of his past experience as an Education critic, used his time at a Committee of Supply session on Thursday morning, to provide a short review of the current state of relations between the college and faculty.

An atmosphere that has seen the two sides head off to court and tribunals in recent years, with faculty unions recently gaining a victory over the process of layoffs at the College.

Mr. Austin began his line of questions seeking some background on the number of administrative positions in place at the College, seeking to identify how much public money was being spent on administrative costs against other parts of the operational budget.

To the minister, my question is: since 2001 what has been the increase in the number of administrative positions at Northwest Community College?

The Minister advised that his Ministry does not track administrative positions separately from other positions, though with some 25 million dollars invested in Northwest Community College since 2001, a variety of positions could have increased in that period.

Mr. Austin then endeavoured, without much immediate success, to try and determine from Minister Virk as to the amount of legal fees in the recent court case and whether that money was coming out of the pool of money dedicated towards educating Northwest students.

There's been an unfortunate amount of disputes that have happened within Northwest Community College. I'd like to know, if the minister could let us know: how much has Northwest Community College spent on legal fees for matters of labour relations associated with the laying off of about 30 employees in 2012? ... 

Clearly, when we have an institution that has had to go to court, it would be interesting, I think, for the public to know to what extent those dollars that would have gone into educating our students has had to be spent on dealing with this dispute. 

He was advised that the Ministry did not have any specific details on the legal allocations, but would follow up on the member's question.

An answer that the MLA for Skeena, advised the Committee that he would welcome.

Then, referencing instructions that the province has apparently delivered to institutions to cut their administrative costs to save money, he asked how the Minister and his staff would know what savings have been achieved without a proper tracking system on administrative costs.

There's a line item in the ministry's budget this year that is asking all of the post-secondary institutions to cut their administrative costs in order to save money...  My question is: if that is a specific request by the ministry, how is it that the minister and his staff are going to be able to know what savings are achieved in administrative costs if they don't actually track what the administrative costs are in the first instance?

The Minister advised Mr. Austin that that the institutions were tracking their savings for all administrative services projects, as part of this reporting requirement. Adding that they were working collaboratively with each other across different sectors, as well as with ministry staff at the same time on this important work.

The Skeena MLA also had a few questions when it came to the upcoming Core Review that the College is about to embark on, particularly when it came to the consultation phase of that review.

When Northwest Community College undertakes its core review, are community organizations, including First Nations, consulted? If so, what is the community consultation process for that core review? .

The Minister advised Mr. Austin that his Ministry was just starting to receive the interim progress reports, with an understanding that Northwest Community College is building their core review on a strategic plan process, which includes extensive community consultation.

Mr. Austin outlined that once the Ministry of Advanced Education receives the plan regarding the consultation process, that it be shared publicly.

The Skeena MLA was also advised that the Ministry would ask the college to follow up directly with Mr. Austin regarding the their consultation process.

Mr. Austin had one final thought on developments at Northwest Community College, approaching the theme of administrative issues at the college, particularly with a focus on the turnover rate and level of administration positions at NWCC in recent years.

As we outlined on the blog in January that is a turnover rate, that now involves the search for a new President, with the current President of NWCC set to leave shortly for a position with Medicine Hat College.

I was wondering whether the minister could let us know what the turnover rate of employment of administrators at Northwest Community College has been over the last few years. What has been the severance and recruitment costs involved in this?

Minister Virk was unable to provide the statistical review for Mr. Austin on that topic on Thursday, but did advise that he would have Ministry staff review the questions and to provide him with follow up on the topic.

Like Mr. Austin, it's safe to suggest that the residents of the Northwest will be awaiting delivery of some of the outstanding answers from the session with much interest.

Looking to learn more about some of the past developments and of the current atmosphere at the various campus locations of the college.

You can examine the Skeena MLA's full review of those and other items of interest on  NWCC  through the Draft Minutes from the Thursday morning session.

The archived video of the Thursday morning Committee session can be found from the Legislature website, Mr. Austin's questions start at the 30 second mark.

There's more on the latest events at the British Columbia Legislature available on our Archive page.

We also have further background on developments at Northwest Community College available on our Education Archive page.

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