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NDP's David Eby: Post-education system like a boat adrift
David Eby pulled off the biggest individual win on election night in May, defeating Premier Christy Clark in the riding of Vancouver-Point Grey.
Alas, his New Democrats could not emulate Eby's victory provincewide and the NDP remains in opposition for the next four years.
Eby, in his new role as advanced-education critic, took his ears to campuses in Kamloops, Kelowna and Merritt this week to learn firsthand the concerns of students.
He said he is hearing a common theme, one that comes from students, faculty, administration and support staff — the system is like a boat adrift right now, with no captain in charge and broken in many ways.
Not surprisingly, Eby said, leading the list of concerns from students at Thompson Rivers University, UBC-Okanagan, Okanagan College and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology in Merritt continues to be rising tuition costs and debilitating student debt.
With housing costs factored in for non-local students, along with the fact maximum student-loan amounts of about $10,000 often do not come close to covering one year's tuition for some undergrad programs, Eby said crippling debt has become all-too common,
"Students in B.C. studying part-time and working part-time is becoming a trend," Eby said, noting a recent BMO study that showed students in British Columbia carry the highest student-loan debt in the country.
Had the NDP won the May election, the party would have brought back a student-grant program, one funded by a bank tax.
Instead, Eby said, the status quo — student loans on which interest begins piling up the moment the loan is taken out and years before the student actually begins to earn a salary on the courses studied — remains a "penny-wise, pound-foolish" procedure.
He said the system is also broken by not having a clear understanding of the infrastructure required for international students.
Eby pointed to two sides of the foreign-student coin: Private institutions offering English as a second language, but not regulated by government; and public institutions that haven't put the necessary measures in place to address issues unique to those unfamiliar with Canadian culture.
As for the first, Eby said it damages the province's image to have students come to B.C. and spend a lot of money for courses at institutions that may then shut down and not reimburse the tuition and/or provide a shoddy education.
In the public sector, Eby said, he has talked with teaching assistants who are spending "a disproportionate amount of time teaching English skills" to students so they can understand their courses.
The same lack of infrastructure exists for special-needs students, Eby said, "when all you need to do is build that extra service and support to help them."
Support services are one of the first to be cut, he said, which harms those "who need a bit more support."
"If they fail, we are supporting them for the rest of their life when, if we just give them that help and they succeed, they can often go on to live a full life."
Eby said when he was making a post-secondary decision, his goal was to graduate and get a job, but he chose courses he felt would do more than that and provide him with more education.
With the changing job market, he said, today's student is often forced to look at post-secondary education as less of an educational opportunity and more of a skills-acquiring necessity.
The problem comes in trying to predict what jobs will be looking for workers in three or four years when they graduate, Eby said.
"We need to teach people how to respond to a rapidly changing society — and one of the questions we need to ask is: Is the system working for B.C.?"