British Columbia’s students are feeling the effects of the current economic situation in more ways than one. Over the last couple of years, new students have flooded into the post-secondary education system in the province, with a number of dramatic effects. In addition to the financial squeeze on the institutions due to a decrease in provincial funding and an increase in enrollment, students are finding themselves sinking deeper in debt as they struggle to afford tuition fees that are among the highest in the country. Both federal and provincial student loan distributors have experienced a rise in the number of borrowers, and the $15 million federal loan budget that was supposed to last until 2014 will be maxed out this year.
With the average student debt in BC at $27,000, many are worried that, if things don’t change soon, students will find themselves entering the job markets with a discouragingly large debt load to pay off. Unfortunately, B.C.’s student financial assistance budget has decreased by nearly 20 per cent from 2009. A 2010 poll commissioned by the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) found that 85 per cent of British Columbians were in favour of a reduction in tuition fees. According to Nimmi Takkar, CFS-BC Chairperson, “Today in BC, the average student graduates from a four-year program with over $27,000 worth of debt from education alone. That means that, unlike graduates before us, we can’t buy cars, or homes, or make investments. I think a lot of students are turned away by that.”
“I think it’s a huge problem that there is such a discrepancy between provinces when it comes to funding,” Takkar continued. “The federal government has no national vision for post-secondary education, and so students in BC are disadvantaged because if your chosen field of education – like medicine – isn’t something you can afford, it’s something you just can’t do here. There’s a lot of talent being wasted or lost.” Many students are eligible for bursaries and grants as a supplement to financial aid, but those extra dollars have become harder to attain due to the increase in students competing for these awards.
James Coccola, chairperson of the University of Victoria’s Students’ Society, noted: “It’s telling the amount of pressures students have to deal with. The average tuition per semester is about $4,800, and that’s before living and general expenses. Clearly there’s been an impact on how students can spend. This should be embarrassing for BC – its future is having to cut spending on food because tuition is so high and rent is so high and [the cost of] living is so high,” he said. “Obviously, something is going wrong here.”
This year, the University of British Columbia was able to offer some financial assistance to local students who were most in need. However, the program can only help so many, and since students are often denied loans because they have a valuable asset, like a car, this is not sufficient to meet the demand. CFS has also begun their Education Shouldn’t Be a Debt Sentence campaign with an online petition, rallies, and letter-writing to local MLA’s. Unfortunately, the future of students in the province remains uncertain, as it will be some time before the economy regains its footing and the employment market becomes more accessible.
Sources: Ubyssey, Clearwater Times, Canadian Federation of Students