By: Nathaniel Tok, Peak Associate
The Kwantlen University Student Association (KSA), as part of the Alliance of BC Students (ABCS), has recently completed a student-led campaign calling for action from the BC government to provide more financial support for low- and middle-income post-secondary students in the form of needs-based grants.
The Grants Now campaign was KSA’s response to BC being the only province in Canada whose government does not provide needs-based student grants. The campaign raised awareness about the fact that every other province in Canada gives low- and middle-income students (coming from households with an annual income of $50,000 or less) non-repayable financial assistance. According to Caitlin McCutchen, vice-president of external affairs in the KSA, the grants [in BC] were removed in 2004 in favour of “a tax-credit system.”
“The most indebted generation in history”
Presently, BC students can apply for loans which need to be paid back with interest. McCutchen argues that high tuition cost together with the interest on loans “places low and middle-income individuals at a disadvantage, as those who do not attend university cite the upfront cost of tuition as of the major reasons why they don’t pursue post-secondary education.”
Other sources of financial aid for students include federal grants through the Canada Student Loans program, but according to the research done by the organizers of the Grant Now campaign, these loans only cover up to 30% of the cost of education. While the campaign recognized the bursaries and scholarships offered by post-secondary institutions, they maintained that providing sufficient financial assistance for students to obtain post-secondary education “shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of universities who are already working with a tight budget.”
The campaign organizers found that BC students are graduating with large amounts of debt that limit their ability to engage in the economy for years after they graduate. Other students may simply drop out as their debt levels rise, creating what the organizers calls “the most indebted generation in history.”
The KSA believes that offering needs-based non-repayable grants to lower- and middle-income students rather than loans should see increases in student graduation, help recent graduates who are in debt, and make post-secondary education more accessible to all.
As all other provinces provide student grants, McCutchen and the KSA sees the reinstatement of grants for BC students as a way to “level [the] playing field with the rest of the country” and to give everyone fair access to education. Having more graduates could also help the province create jobs, grow its economy, and allow more citizens to climb the socioeconomic leader.
McCutchen reported positive results from the Grants Now campaign, obtaining over 750 signatures from Kwantlen Polytechnic University students.
“While campaigning, countless students . . . would often mention the impact that high tuition rates has on their lives,” said David Piraquive, chair of the external affairs committee of the KSA. McCutchen added, “the high cost of living in BC is making post-secondary education increasingly unattainable.”
“[Students] were eager to sign the petition and many were not aware that BC is the only province without a needs-based grants program.”
In terms of implementation, the Grants Now campaign called for grants to be accessible to both undergraduates and graduates students, domestic or international, and part-time or full-time students with special provisions for students with disabilities and dependents. Grants should also not be dependent on finishing the program.
“Grants are not a partisan issue, every other province has a system of needs-based grants, and these systems have been in place under various parties,” said McCutchen. “This is just a matter of the province properly funding education.”