B.C. plan for aboriginal postsecondary education released
Former Vancouver Community College student Toni Gladstone was a single mother living on social assistance when she decided to go back to school.
Now an aboriginal advisor at the postsecondary institution’s downtown campus, she helps students facing similar challenges to those she did.
“I know too well from personal experience how hard it is to struggle and exist in poverty,” said Gladstone at an announcement at Vancouver Community College today (June 21).
“Many of the students that I work with come from that same spot.”
Gladstone made the comments as the B.C. government launched an aboriginal postsecondary education and training policy framework.
The long-term plan aims to improve postsecondary opportunities and outcomes for aboriginal students.
“This new framework and action plan will help to guide and inform the direction of postsecondary education and training for aboriginal learners in B.C., along with their transition to the labour market,” B.C. Minister of Advanced Education Naomi Yamamoto said during an announcement at Vancouver Community College, coinciding with National Aboriginal Day.
The goals for aboriginal learners outlined in the plan include increasing the number of students enrolled in graduate programs, expanding the number of housing spaces available for students attending public post-secondary institutions, ensuring all public postsecondary institution campuses have culturally welcoming spaces, and establishing an emergency assistance fund for students.
Yamamoto also announced funding to support programs and financial assistance for aboriginal postsecondary students, including $7 million toward partnerships between public postsecondary institutions and aboriginal institutes and communities, and $4.2 million to fund the implementation of aboriginal service plans at 11 public postsecondary institutions.
An additional $5 million in funding announced by Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Mary Polak includes $2 million for the B.C. Aboriginal Award, and $2 million for an emergency financial assistance fund for aboriginal students .
“Sometimes, when you’re a student and it gets tight, some students unfortunately have had to drop out, because they couldn’t bridge even a very short-term financial crisis,” said Polak.
“The recipients use the funding for such things as travel for emergency purposes, unexpected costs in caring for independents, and health-related emergencies. It’s important to ensure that a temporary lack of funds is not the situation that ends someone’s education.”
The action plan also includes targets for community-based programs for aboriginal students, such as supporting aboriginal learners to access distance and online education opportunities in their communities.
Dan Smith of the First Nations Summit said providing education access to students in remote communities is critical.
“It’s great to have university and advanced education in cities like Vancouver, Prince George, Nanaimo etc, but we need to be able to reach those communities where they don’t have the financial assistance, nor do they have the housing in university/college areas, so that they’re able to attend school,” he said.
“What we really need to do is start looking at digital media and how we’re going to provide the same opportunities to those remote communities through digital media.”
The framework launched today was developed over an 18-month period with aboriginal leaders, postsecondary institutions and students.