NDP turns its sights towards 2013 election with student grant proposal
// Liam Loxton

Adrian Dix, leader of the provincial NDP party, is promising $100 million in available grants for students. In the last few weeks, the BC NDP have been pushing to not only reinstate the $80 million grant program cancelled by the BC Liberals in 2004, but to increase it by $20 million.

According to report by the Canadian Federation of Students, the increasing cost of tuition is averaging at 3.6% per year. The same report shows that the average B.C. university undergraduate leaves school $27,000 in debt. These facts combined will weigh heavily on whether many young adults will pursue post-secondary education. The fact that the NDP is addressing education issues at this time shows that they are feeling the heat for the upcoming May 2013 election.

Increasing tuition, decreased access to student grants, and the economic recession are all contributing to making education a viable campaign issue that appeals to both students and parents. According to a poll by Angus Reid, the BC Liberals are still suffering from the results of the HST referendum. With a popularity lead of only 5% over the NDP's 38%, both parties will be encouraged to appeal to voting minorities. Although it is unlikely that the Liberal party will target this demographic, an ensuing battle over tuition could make higher education in B.C. more affordable, a win-win scenario for students.

Besides taking out a high-interest student loan, the only way students have to pay tuition is either to save enough money, or to have their parents foot the bill. Both options are becoming less realistic due to the cloud of recession looming over the economy. Minimum wage is an inadequate means of paying high tuition, so parents are being pressured to save beforehand. The Registered Education Savings Plan is a current federal education program that distributes grants to parents who invest before their child attends post-secondary school. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, this program is benefiting the families that can afford education, rather the low-income families that need the grants.

Investing in students will positively impact all British Columbians. An academic journal by Michael Paulsen exploring the economics of post-secondary education shows that in Texas, the state received an additional $1.13 in economic activity for every dollar invested in the public high education industry. The journal also demonstrated that when fewer subsidies are made available for low to middle-class families, enrolment from these groups drops. It's both economically and socially sensible to invest in a grant program that makes education more accessible to all income brackets.

Unfortunately, the Liberals have already reacted, condemning Dix's idea. The Advanced Education Minister, Naomi Yamamoto is quoted in [i]The Times Colonist[/i] as saying, "I'm not likely to take financial advice for programming from Mr. Dix,” expressing her opinion that the funding for the program isn't available. The party went on to defend their current education policy, stating that the average tuition paid in B.C. last year was $4,802, which is the fourth lowest in Canada, with average student debt being third lowest.

Still, this recommendation by Dix hints at how hard the NDP party is working to scrape up support for the 2013 election. Education needs to be a priority, but whether the B.C. Liberal party will bother wooing a demographic notorious for low voter turn-out in favour of their usual support base seems an unlikely prospect.

// Liam Loxton

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