After being grilled by a group of students last week, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is dismissing questions regarding the relatively low proportion of non-repayable grants to student loans in the province.
The questions were asked two days after a report by the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation showed that the proportion of grants, money that students aren’t required to pay back, is rising in other provinces.
The foundation revealed that non-repayable grants now make up just 12 percent of British Columbia’s aid, down from 27 percent in 2004 and the lowest proportion in the country. In Manitoba, 48 per cent of student aid is non-repayable.
Nationwide, the proportion of loans to grants has more than doubled in the past 15 years, now making up 30 per cent of total aid. A big portion of that increase came from Ontario, where the McGuinty Liberals began offering up to $3,000 per year to students from low-income families in 2005.
That was the same year that Campbell’s Liberals nixed grants for students from low-income homes in B.C. The grants were replaced by a program designed to help graduates reduce their debt load; this costs the taxpayers less than half as much as the grants did.
But Campbell emphasized that money is being invested in building universities instead.
“Everyone would like a grant,” said Campbell during a press conference at the UBC School of Journalism. “But the fact of the matter is, [the province] is paying somewhere between 75 percent and 80 percent of the costs.”
According to Campbell, building and expanding university infrastructure gets “the best value for students,” and increases access to education. He pointed to new campuses in Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo and the Fraser Valley that have each received hundreds of millions of dollars in provincial funding. Building new schools also reduces transportation costs for students, said Campbell.
B.C.’s recent approach to post-secondary education spending echoes Ontario’s approach in the late 1990s. The Mike Harris government spent billions on lecture halls and science labs through the SuperBuild Fund while shying away from individual student grants.
Meanwhile, B.C.’s opposition New Democrats are campaigning on restoring some of the money that had been dished out to students from low-income households up until 2005. The NDP platform includes $250 million in new grant spending and a 50 percent cut to the interest rate paid on the province’s portion of student loans.
BC voters head to the polls May 12.