B.C. students lose grants

Increased fears of higher loan debt

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Student groups reacted with shock and devastation to the British Columbia government's move to discontinue student grants.

In B.C., students with high financial need receive part of their student loan as a grant which means they only repay the loan portion after graduation. The government will direct the $30 million from student grants towards post-secondary institutions, which some schools will use to limit tuition increases or increase student financial aid.

According to Karen McDonald, the Ministry of Advanced Education Communications Director, the cut helped balance the provincial budget.

"It was a difficult decision," said McDonald. "But we want to do the greatest good for the 300,000 full-time and part-time post-secondary students. Only five per cent of those students access the grant program."

Scott Payne, the University of Victoria Students' Society Director of Services said the move is not in the best interests of students as the majority come from lower and middle-income situations and it steals money from the most vulnerable students.

"The number one deterrent is high tuition and debt levels," said Payne. "They're sending the message you need to rack up debt. Two or three years of high tuition increases is deterring people to attend university. It's acting as a barrier."

Payne is also concerned the government has not announced a new program such as loan remission when students graduate to replace student grants and is actually front-loading the debt by removing the grants. McDonald indicated the government was looking into a new program but nothing has been formalized.

Payne is also concerned the lack of information from the government and the use of the redirected grant motion.

Dr. Edwin Deas, Vice-President Administration at Malaspina University-College in Nanaimo, is also concerned about information flow and worries how the cut will affect students who attend the small institution.

"We primarily serve the geographical area in and around Nanaimo," said Dr. Deas. "It's not a thriving economy. Our students will be unable to cope with something like this. There is high unemployment and high levels of welfare."

However, Simon Fraser Uni- versity President Michael Stevenson feels the budget sends a strong message that advanced education is a priority. SFU will use the money for lower tuition increases and increases to financial aid. Stevenson also added they're discussing new programs with the government.

"We're eager to explore alternatives, such as loan remission and completion grants, as ways to reduce student debt and extend access," said Stevenson.




In light of the fact that the Liberal gov. removed ALL student grants ($30 million) from post-secondary students, and the fact that a vast majority of students don't vote in provincial elections, do you think that a certain amount of student activism may have an effect on future government decisions? Or as they say down at the farm, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
The next election will be hotly contested, as many people who voted for the Liberal landslide are now having sober second thoughts after seeing the decimation of social programs, gov. corruption and environmental backstepping. Having students pool their voices accross several campuses would introduce yet another log on the pile of debate the sitting politicians would have to address. There is nothing like seeing a politician attempting to defend a hugely unpopular position at election time. Mostly they use media sound-bites that unfortunately are seldom challenged, such as "in the best interest of students, we are making the 30 million available to create more spaces, blah, blah, blah; wheras in truth, the grant funds are being turned over to the "financial black hole" called the university. They have no mandate whatsoever attached to these funds that they be used on "behalf of the students", but instead will go into their general revenue to make up for government cut backs to their operating budgets. The bean counters will argue that this is all on behalf of students, but of course, it is not. A grant to a student directly benefits that student's ability to attend university and devote the maximum of his/her time to studies, whereas the same $$ given to the university can be used for anything from tree planting to painting stripes in parking lots: funds which should be part of the university's operating budget, not transfered from students in need.
Now at election time, many issues compete for the media (thus voters) attention. The removal of approx $30 mill. of student grants has to compete with items such as taxes, BC Rail, health care, general education, environment, economics, political sleaze ( a sure media attention getter- it sells papers), olympics etc. etc.
At one time, student unions were very vocal, and managed to get their concerns out to the general public. But since the seventies, their focus has been more on maintaining the status quo than shit disturbing. After the grants were withdrawn, there was one day of rallies which got 10 minutes of TV time, a few columns in the papers, followed by silence. The issue was "hot" for maybe two days, then retreated quickly to the back burner. After all, Martha Stuart's trial and hockey violence seem way more important.
I guess what the bottom line is, that unless the more activist students themselves get elected to their student unions/councils and begin to campaign the student body to vote and protest; or join political parties, it will be a done thing. To be fair, the very students that are the most effected by the withdrawl of student grants, probably have a lot on their plate trying to balance studies, jobs, living and a wee bit of social life every 24 hours. To add political activism to that mix is definitely burdensome. But it can be a training ground for future endeavors. And of course, there are also the students that agree with the current government policy, but methinks that they are in the minority.