The local representative of a national student group says B.C. students have “a right to be worried” about the state of postsecondary education in Canada following the election of a Conservative majority.
Michael Olson, the B.C. representative for the national executive of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), told the Straight in a phone interview that the Conservatives scored low on a “report card” analysis of the federal parties’ election platforms on postsecondary education.
“The Conservatives unfortunately based on the last couple of years in government and their platform”¦got a pretty low mark, given that they weren’t addressing issues of record student debt or issues of the lack of affordability in postsecondary education or proper funding of the system,” said Olson.
He suggested the Conservatives’ policies are cause for concern for students in B.C., where he said there have been cuts to operational funding for postsecondary.
“The lack of prioritizing dedicated transfer payments for postsecondary or the creation of a national vision for postsecondary education is something that students have a right to be worried about,” he said.
However, Olson acknowledged the Harper government has made positive steps on the postsecondary front.
“The Conservative government in the past has created the Canada Student Grants Program, and last year alone provided over $570 million in upfront non-repayable financial aid for students,” he noted.
Olson said the CFS will continue to lobby MPs on issues including increasing funding for the Canada Student Grants Program, the creation of a postsecondary education act, transfer payments dedicated to postsecondary education, and lifting the cap on a support program for aboriginal students.
He noted the creation of a postsecondary act is one of the central issues the CFS has been advocating for.
“Canada’s one of the few industrialized countries that doesn’t have a national vision for postsecondary education,” he said. “That’s something that the Conservative government has not in any way identified as a priority.”
Olson is hopeful the NDP opposition, which has introduced a bill calling for the creation of a postsecondary education act, will generate more discussion in Parliament on the issue.
“With such a large opposition of NDP, I’d say there’s a lot more conversation among MPs regarding the creation of that act,” he said.
Olson said another major concern the student group has raised is increasing non-repayable financial aid for students. He criticized the Conservatives’ policies on increasing student grants as “lackluster” and argued their election platform focused on increasing access to debt.
“In B.C. we’re looking at average student debt upon completion of a four-year degree at over $27,000, just for student loan debt,” he said.
“Increasing access to that kind of debt load isn’t what’s going to help students in the long run. What we need is more non-repayable financial aid.”
Olson noted the organization has also been lobbying the B.C. government to implement a provincial grants program.