New Democrats Urge Re-establishment of Needs-based Student Grant Program

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Proposal Supports Opportunities for Young People and Long Term Jobs Strategy;
Backed By Faculty and Students

VICTORIA – The B.C. government should proceed now with a needs-based grant program for post-secondary students, announced leader Adrian Dix today at Camosun College.

“Ensuring access to advanced education must be a cornerstone of any economic growth and jobs plan for the province. Ten years of tuition increases and the elimination of grants by the Liberals has made pursuing higher education increasingly difficult, especially for students from low- and middle-income households. Restoring grants is key to improving accessibility, supporting young people and building a more prosperous economic future,” said Dix.

“If elected, a New Democrat government would make a grants program one of its priorities. The official opposition, though, urges Premier Christy Clark, as she serves out Gordon Campbell’s term in government, to adopt this proposal. There is an urgent need for action now.

“I have met with business leaders from many sectors over the past months, including forestry, construction, high-tech. All rank a growing skills shortage as one of their top concerns. I also have met with young British Columbians from across the province who are worried that they cannot meet their aspirations because of the rising cost of post-secondary education. Grants would help ensure that many young people can overcome barriers in getting the education they need to fulfill their dreams, and the B.C. economy will have the skilled labour force it needs,” said Dix.

The New Democrat leader was joined by Camosun students and faculty members, advanced education critic Michelle Mungall, and Victoria MLAs Rob Fleming and Carole James.

Dix explained that the non-repayable grant program – eliminated by the Liberals in the 2004-05 fiscal year – should be financed through reinstating a minimum tax on financial institutions.

The provincial government has predicted that close to 80 per cent of future jobs will require some level of advanced education. Policy experts are advising that boosting participation in post-secondary education is critical to fending off a skills shortage that could dampen B.C.’s economic competitiveness.

These dynamics are resulting in a growing consensus around improving access to advanced education. Advocates – from the Canadian Federation of Students to the policy advisors for the B.C. Business Council – have recommended that the provincial government put in place programs so more British Columbians, especially those from under-represented groups, can pursue and complete post-secondary programs.

“We need a strong post-secondary system, one that is affordable and accessible,” said Mungall.

Unfortunately, due to the Liberals, tuition has doubled during the past decade. As a result, average student debt has spiraled to a staggering $27,000. Saddling young people with insurmountable debts and offering next to no supports as they prepare themselves for B.C.’s job market is doing a disservice to B.C.’s economy. It’s time to change that.”

In 2000, B.C. was a leader in ensuring access to post-secondary education. The province offered a grant program that was second only to Quebec. Tuition also was second lowest in the country, and student debt levels fell below the national average.

The proposal was lauded by faculty and students today.

“Many occupations require graduate studies or professional certification, in addition to a bachelor’s degree. However, many potential students don’t even start post-secondary education because of the prospect of debt, and they can be forced to stop mid-course because of the debt accumulated during their first years of study,” explained Browen Welch, Camosun College Faculty Association president

“Right now, affording school is a struggle. But the financial hardship will continue after I graduate because of the debt load I will have,” said Chantal Kyffin, who is pursuing dual studies in social work and visual arts.