By Anne Kang
Going to school to get the skills you need shouldn’t be a lifelong debt sentence. By keeping costs low, and opening up new doors, this government is helping students successfully find their place in B.C.’s economy. Unfortunately, for 16 years students had a B.C. Liberal government that didn’t invest in the future of education.
The damage started with Gordon Campbell and then-education minister Christy Clark, when they lifted the tuition freeze the previous NDP government had put in place. Over the following years, tuition doubled for many students across B.C. and student debt spiralled out of control.
Following years of public outcry from students across the province, the B.C. Liberal government was forced to introduce a 2-per-cent cap on tuition. But it didn’t take long for Andrew Wilkinson, then-BC Liberal Advanced Education Minister and now Leader of the B.C. Liberals, to find and exploit loopholes in the tuition cap, leaving students vulnerable to unpredictable increases.
In the fall of 2015, Wilkinson began directing colleges and universities to institute new mandatory “fees” on students as a way to get around the tuition cap. At Vancouver Community College (VCC), students faced a host of new fees: $835 in shop fees for mechanics' apprentices; $937 in material fees for professional cooks; and $2,000 in lab fees for pharmacy technicians.
Postsecondary education became less affordable and less accessible. And to the frustration and dismay of students, Andrew Wilkinson dismissed their concerns and boasted that 70 percent of students graduate pos-secondary debt-free—a claim that his own government’s research contradicted.
This government understands that in order to build the best British Columbia we must invest in students and the communities that they live in. Our government is also committed to creating true and meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous communities, and education holds the key.
New Democrats value the importance of skills training, expanding access for Early Childhood Educators, and more seats for health care assistants here in the province. From Prince George to Surrey, we are investing in an innovative, strong and sustainable 21st-century economy by providing funding for new engineering and tech seats. The B.C. Liberals promised new techs seats for years but failed to deliver. Our government was quick to add 2,900 tech-related spaces.
We’re investing almost $1.9 million in funding to ensure more students benefit from work-integrated, co-op and experiential learning, so that students get the real-life, on the job skills training to give them a leg up in the workforce. And don’t forget the $1.5 million in provincial funding that will train students with cognitive, mental health, or physical disabilities for careers in baking and cooking in the trades sector at our public colleges and universities.
One of the key issues we hear from students is how they are being impacted by the lack of affordable housing. It is staggering to learn that the B.C. Liberals built a meager 130 student beds over the last decade. Meanwhile, New Democrats have taken big steps to address student housing by investing in 5,000 beds so far, and we’ve given institutions the ability to borrow money from the government to invest in on campus housing.
As a former teacher, and as someone from an immigrant family, I understand how important English language courses are for our newcomers.
After decades of B.C. colleges providing students with free Adult Basic Education and language training, Andrew Wilkinson and the B.C. Liberals callously cut funding for these programs. In September 2013, VCC had 2,219 students registered for English Language Learning programs (ELL). The college was the largest ELL provider in the province, but they had to shut down their whole program after the cuts.
When we announced last year that our New Democrat government would restore funding for Adult Basic Education and ELL programs, I was thrilled! This will open doors for newcomers, and help build a more robust workforce. And we didn’t stop there, we’ve invested $2.4 million to support 89 basic literacy adult learning programs in every part of the province. Here in Burnaby, learners will benefit from a $30,000 partnership between Burnaby Neighbourhood House and Simon Fraser University. These investments will go a long way for students.
Properly funding skills upgrading courses is key to personal and economic success. As Premier John Horgan put it, Adult Basic Education should be free for all of us, and it should be a right.
Anne Kang is the NDP MLA for Burnaby-Deer Lake.