By Ashley Fehr
Are you a student in financial need? Do you live in British Columbia?
Don’t even think about asking the B.C. government for help.
At a time when the Alberta government is choosing to increase postsecondary-education funding by $88 million, the Saskatchewan government has announced $25 million in new student aid and knowledge infrastructure funding, and Newfoundland and Labrador has eliminated interest on student loans, the B.C. government chose to slash $16 million from education.
The cuts were quite specific: the province chose to eliminate $16 million in funding for StudentAid B.C. With no announcement, no press release. We had to find out when the news was leaked to the media.
Even worse, many students found out the hard way. When they phoned StudentAid B.C. asking where their grant was, they were advised it no longer existed. We’ve read numerous media articles about these cuts, but no one has really explained why.
Now, pressed on the matter, Minister of Advanced Education Moira Stilwell says it’s because of tough economic times. I get it; I really do. In a tough economy we have to cut funding where we can. But why is it that everyone else realizes that cutting accessibility to education is the last place to look for fiscal savings? And cutting funding for health-care access? I think you’d have to look far and wide to find supporters for such cuts.
Here’s the way it is, plain and simple. We live within an aging population—this is not news. The need for nurses, residential-care workers, and home-support workers is on the rise. These positions aren’t particularly well paid, and many students are unable to afford the education required without taking out student loans.
While first applying for student loans, one may have learned about the Health Care Bursary and the Nurses Education Bursary, two programs that help those going into nursing or the health-care field get a head start and require fewer loans. These bursaries worked to ensure a much-needed influx of new workers in the health-care system in B.C., in part by making sure the necessary education was accessible.
In addition, when many of these students began their programs, they were told that when they graduate they could apply for a Loan Reduction for Residential Care Aide and Home Support Worker Programs. But sadly, without any warning, if they graduated on or after April 1, 2009, this is no longer true.
“Wait. April 1?” you say. “But I only heard about the cuts at the end of July.”
So, here we sit in quite the predicament. We’re stressed. We’re angry. We’re fighting back tears. But it’s too late; we’ve already taken the student loans. We’ve already completed the program and the government—the same government that promised not to cut education or health care—has told us we’re not getting our loan reductions because the program has been eliminated. At this point, all that we can do is warn future graduates about the cuts to the loan-reduction programs. Oh and don’t forget, the government has also decided that it’s not worth its while to fund health care at the front end. The bursaries have also been cut.
Gordon Campbell’s government has been downright awful for education. In 2008, it made-last minute cuts to postsecondary institutions, after most schools had spent their funds.
This year, the Liberals have broken their promise, and the government has eliminated five important student-aid programs: the Permanent Disability Benefits Program, Debt Reduction in Repayment Program, Loan Reduction for Residential Care Aide and Home Support Worker Programs, Nurses Education Bursary, Health Care Bursary, and Premier’s Excellence Award program. And we hear the province is still considering cutting other programs and bursaries.
The B.C. government is not only eliminating loan programs; it’s eliminating real students and devastating the future of the province and its youth.
Ashley Fehr is the chair and director of academic affairs for the Kwantlen Student Association.