By Natalie Sit
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.