Students in British Columbia were hit hard this summer after provincial Advanced Education Minister Moira Stilwell cut $16 million from the student-aid budget without warning.
To add insult to injury, the B.C. government's September provincial budget update expects tuition fees collected to surpass corporate income taxes in the 2011-12 school year. The report indicated they will collect $1.11 billion in tuition revenues, compared to $1.04 billion in corporate income taxes.
The B.C. Liberals have already closed down the Permanent Disability Benefits program, which aided 350 students with disabilities with their debts, the Premier's Excellence Award program, which awarded $15,000 scholarships to the 16 top high school students. Other programs -- such as the Debt Reduction in Repayment Program, for students unable to pay off their debt -- have been scaled back.
In late July an internal government communication was leaked to media outlets outlining funding cuts.
Canadian Federation of Students-B.C. chairperson Shamus Reid warned the cuts are an example of the ruling party transforming public services in to user-paid services.
"In the most recent B.C. budget, while eliminating taxes for some businesses, the B.C. government not only hiked tuition fees a further two per cent, but also increased health-care user fees," said Reid. "In the university and college sector, roughly 30 per cent of the cost of post-secondary education is now borne by individual students rather than through public funding."
Reid said that average public student debt after graduation in B.C. is now about $27,000 -- an almost 50 per cent increase since 2002. He explained students from low- and middle-income families are less likely to enroll in PSE.
"For many students, particularly those with disabilities and women who will be most impacted by the student aid cuts, these cuts are devastating," said Reid. "The levels of debt that students and our families are forced to take on to get an education in B.C. are unsustainable."
University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society vice-president external Tim Chu said last April UBC raised domestic students' tuition fees by two per cent, to an average of $5,000 for a full course-load.
"This is a clear broken election promise because during the provincial election, [the Liberals] promised that they would maintain the levels of funding for student aid," said Chu.
"Most of the programs that were abolished were for students studying to become a professional in the health sector. This comes after the provincial government, in the past, announced that they will invest heavily in the health-sector education because of the health-care worker shortage we have here in B.C."
Chu explained the AMS is calling for a reversal of the cuts alongside an awareness campaign. UBC students are encouraged to send postcards and letters to the minister of advanced education. He said he suspects the government's priorities are skewed, with reduced corporate taxes and lower royalty rates for oil companies while cuts are made to PSE.
University of Victoria third-year anthropology student Sam Crofford is upset about the cuts to assistance. He said he has worked full-time in the summer and part-time the last two semesters, with no government assistance.
"I feel that [it] is difficult enough to get a hold of government finance for higher education and taking away any funding in a time of inflation and stagnant wage is an exercise in elitism and painfully shortsighted," said Crofford.