Representatives of students, college teachers, and university professors have all expressed strong reservations about the B.C. Liberals’ recently announced plan to give $1,000 to every baby born in B.C., starting next year.
According to Premier Gordon Campbell, who revealed the scheme on November 4 at his party’s biennial convention in Penticton, the “children’s education credit” will be placed in trust for the kids to use for postsecondary education.
Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC, says she was surprised by Campbell’s announcement.
“When I first heard about it, I thought it was a joke,” Oliver, whose organization represents college teachers, told the Georgia Straight. “A thousand dollars to be held in trust for 17, 18 years? There’s so many problems with access; there’s students dropping out because they have to find work, they can’t afford it.”
Every B.C. college teacher has had students who are too poor to continue full-time studies, Oliver said, adding that she can think of better ways to spend the funds to be set aside for the education credit. “That money needs to be taken and put towards making postsecondary education affordable for students, “ she said. “Every student that qualifies should be able to attend a postsecondary institution.”
Victoria-Hillside MLA Rob Fleming, the Opposition advanced- education critic, calls the $1,000 plan “bizarre”, given what the Liberals have done to postsecondary education. He said there would likely not be a penny paid out by the program for another 18 years.
“Instead of giving it to students’ needs of today, they’re putting together another window-dressing program that won’t even potentially benefit anyone till 2024,” Fleming said. “This certainly will do nothing for students and working families who want to access colleges and universities today.”
However, Fleming said an NDP government may not kill the program, which will cost $41 million annually. “Saving for education is a great idea,” he said. “But what we would do is focus on programs that actually reduce student debts, which have climbed tremendously under the Liberals.”
The most effective way to do this is to restore the grants portion of the student-loan scheme, which the Liberals eliminated, Fleming noted. He said that the average student debt for those graduating is now more than $26,000, up from about $17,000 when the Liberals took office in 2001. The Liberals raised B.C. tuition fees to $700 above the Canadian average, Fleming said.
“It really is absurd to say, ”˜Oh, we’re working on accessibility and affordability in postsecondary education; we’re going to give you $1,000 in 2024. So hang on, working parents, help is on the way.’?”
Rob Clift is the executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C., which represents librarians, professors, and other academic staff at B.C. universities. “If the government wants to control advanced-education costs for the middle class,” Clift told the Straight, “the children’s credit is probably not the best way to do it. No one wants to say no, but it’s not clear what the policy objectives are. If they’re really going to put aside $41 million a year, then the question is, Could these goals have been achieved more effectively if that $41 million had been used in another way? I suspect they would.”
Clift said that high-school programs to encourage young people to attend postsecondary education would be a better expenditure.
“The premier says he wants evidence-based policy-making, and I haven’t seen any evidence that a program like this is necessarily going to achieve the objective of encouraging people who wouldn’t normally go on [to postsecondary education] to go,” Clift said. “It’s not the best choice. I’m happy to have $41 million a year, as it were, into the postsecondary-education system, if tangentially. But at the same time, I’m a little bit disappointed that it wasn’t the best policy mechanism.”
Canadian Federation of Students B.C. chair Scott Payne told the Straight that if the credit grows to $2,000 by the time the child enters university, it wouldn’t cover the increase in tuition fees due to inflation, even if there are no more increases in fees.
Payne said the federation has called for a 10-percent reduction in tuition fees, and he noted that the $41 million would cover about half the cost of the reduction.
“If there’s a real willingness on the part of the government to invest in postsecondary education, that reduction would have much more tangible effect for students,” Payne said.