Minister misleading on student debt

It’s a tenuous position for Minister Wilkinson to set the facts straight on post-secondary funding when he relies on a voluntary survey

Re: The letter ‘Minister defends post-secondary funding’ in the Feb. 10 Saanich News.

It’s a tenuous position for Minister Wilkinson to set the facts straight about post-secondary funding when he relies on the results of a voluntary survey rather than a comprehensive set of data. And therein lies the real problem in assessing the true picture of student debt in B.C. and in Canada – neither the provincial nor federal government are collecting reliable, consistent and rigorous data on student debt.

The last time that we had a clear picture of student debt was when the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation released a report in 2009 that pegged student debt in B.C. at $26,738. With the annual increases in tuition and major cuts to post-secondary funding we have seen in B.C. since 2009, this amount has not decreased. It is more likely close to the $34,886 that the 2013 Bank of Montreal Student Survey put forward in 2013 – the highest expected debt of all the provinces. Not surprising considering that B.C. is the only province in Canada without non-repayable needs-based grants for students.

In Canada, tuition fees have increased by 137 per cent from an average of $1,706 in 1991-1992 to $6,191 in 2015-2016. Claiming that tuition in B.C. has only increased by 12 per cent since 2004 completely ignores the fact that tuition more than doubled across the province between 2002-2004 when the B.C. government deregulated tuition.

A post-secondary education in B.C. is no longer affordable for students from middle and lower income families. Also, the minister’s claim that the average undergraduate tuition in B.C. is the fourth lowest in Canada does not mean that it is affordable. Until the B.C. government starts to collect accurate data on student debt not based on voluntary surveys, the minister’s ‘facts’ may as well be from the Ministry of Magic rather than Advanced Education.

Kenya Rogers, director of external relations

University of Victoria

Students’ Society