Student debt fears rise with impending semester

UVSS prepares to launch Where's the Funding campaign

Debt isn’t usually a hot topic for students on summer vacation, but University of Victoria students are already planning how they’ll attack their No. 1 issue this fall.

The UVic Students’ Society (UVSS) is preparing to launch the WTF (Where’s the Funding) campaign, with the goal of turning around B.C.’s tarnished reputation for post-secondary funding.

Students in B.C. are graduating with an average $27,000 of debt, according to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), and B.C. remains the only province in Canada that doesn’t have a provincial grants program in place.

“What we’re looking at now is dire financial times,” said UVic Students’ Society chair Tara Paterson. “What the campaign will do is push both the major political parties to prioritize post-secondary education, should there be an election in the fall. If (no election happens), we’re looking to see some real governmental action from the B.C. Liberals.”

The three main goals of the campaign are to convince government to increase core post-secondary funding; reduce or eliminate interest on student loans; and reinstate a provincial grants program.

In 2002, the Liberals deregulated tuition fees, and consequently, they doubled in three years.

By the CFS’ calculations, tuition fees in B.C. are now 10 per cent more than the national average, at $6,580 per year. The province, however, estimated tuition fees at $4,802 for the 2010-11 year.

Regardless of the provincial average, with the current interest rate at 2.5 per cent above prime, a student’s $27,000 debt would balloon to $35,000 over a 10-year repayment period.

Michel Turcotte, director of operations for the Camosun College Student Society, says they draw on the CFS – which the UVSS voted to leave last year – to educate their members and raise such political issues as student debt.

Part of that education, he says, is planning for graduation and knowing when to apply for interest relief before defaulting on repayments.

The Ministry of Advanced Education has invested $2.5 billion in student financial assistance programs since 2001, including grants for students with disabilities and interest relief programs.

“When you need (financial assistance) you can’t get it,” Turcotte said. “If you go into default status, you have to clear that up before you can go into loan remission status.”

The CFS’s ongoing campaign against the rising cost of education, Education Shouldn’t be a Debt Sentence, includes an online petition based on principles identical to the WTF campaign.

“While tuition fees are going up and the quality of our education is decreasing, a generation of students is being bankrupted,” Paterson said.

nnorth@saanichnews.com