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NDP's advance education critic making the rounds
B.C. NDP critic for advanced education David Eby said he's gained a better understanding about the issues rural colleges face thanks to his tour of the province's post-secondary institutions.
Eby has already been to about three-quarters of B.C.'s post-secondary schools during his month-long tour. Last week, he visited North Island College.
"As a new critic, it's a huge advantage for me to come and talk to students about the challenges they face right now, which are very different than even when I went to school, and to administrators about what they see as the challenges in the system that they're working with," Eby said Thursday outside NIC's Comox Valley campus.
He was on his way in to speak with NIC president John Bowman, so hadn't yet dug into the specific issues NIC faces, but during his tour he's noticed rural college administrators and students have many similar concerns.
"The rural schools face very similar challenges and have very similar concerns about funding," he said. "In particular, they're worried that the system has no way of taking into account the impact of training five people in a particular skills area in a smaller community, and they're currently being funded in a way that they have to have a minimum of 15 or 20 people in a class."
He added the economic impact of training five electrical engineers in Courtenay, for example, would be far greater than training five electrical engineers on the Lower Mainland.
"We need to get past the idea that you have to have 25 people in a class in order for that class to have a successful economic impact," he continued.
"I think that this school, like so many other rural colleges, faces the very serious issue of being funded as if they were located in the downtown of Vancouver. Many rural colleges service multiple campuses; they have higher heating costs, they have higher supply costs.
"And they also have communities they serve that need to be able to access their programs and get to these programs more urgently because they're totally disengaged from the economy right now. So, I think the greatest opportunities are in rural areas, but also the greatest challenges are faced by rural colleges."
He added that while funding remains static, schools are being asked to offer more and more to their communities.
"So, they find themselves spending a lot of time trying to make up revenue through various sources, like international students or private contracting, these kinds of activities, and unfortunately that distracts from what should be one of their key mandates, which is educating British Columbians for the jobs that are going to be there in the future."
Eby also said rural students have been telling him they can't even borrow enough money in student loans to go to an out-of-town school; he noted one student told him it would cost $15,000 for their school expenses but the maximum student loan they could get was $10,800. He pointed out being able to borrow more in student loans is not an optimal option, however.
Eby added the "rotating door at the top of the ministry" means there's been no coherent plan in the advanced education system.
He had planned to visit Camosun College on Friday as he continued his tour to better understand the issues around post-secondary education in B.C.