Students from both the Okanagan College and UBCO Okanagan student unions teamed up to question the deputy NDP advanced education critic, Michelle Mungall, on her take of post-secondary funding policies this week.
Mungall hit the UBCO campus at 4 p.m. Monday, just hours after the new B.C. Premier Christy Clark was sworn in and named her cabinet.
For the roughly 20 students who turned out to mingle with the young politician, however, the change in politics seemed to be semantics when compared with the changes needed in policy.
“The big issue right now for colleges is that colleges, unlike universities, are not funded at the rate of inflation,” said Cory Nelmes, with the Okanagan College Student Union.
“So the students at colleges are constantly forced to take on that burden with tuition increases.”
Okanagan College is the most expensive college in the province, with fees that currently rest $450 above average.
Nelmes said addressing the core funding needs of the institution could have a drastic impact on reducing this burden for students. “It’s a big game of musical chairs,” she said.
“Every year the college’s costs go up, just like anybody else’s costs go up, but they can’t run a deficit and (the government) takes back any surplus at the end of the budget year.
“So it’s digging a hole for the colleges.”
While Nelmes said she realizes students don’t pay the bulk of the institution’s costs, their tuition fees are one of the only ways OC can access funding increases.
So the gap between what it costs to run the school and the funds the institution has to pay the bills lands squarely at the student body’s front door.
“Any solution needs to be a sustainable solution,” she said.
“If it’s not sustainable, we suffer things like program cuts and faculty cuts and that’s a disservice to students in a whole other way.”
For his part, UBCO Student Union financial coordinator Grayson Lepp said he was there more to suss out the climate around the various NDP leadership candidate’s promises on advanced education and how feasibly those messages resonate with the critic.
“A lot of potential NDP leadership candidates have announced that they will be having some kind of post-secondary education plan,” he said.
“We wanted to see what her take is on that and the feasibility of having any plan come forth right now.”
Lepp said he was particularly interested in a commitment made by NDP leadership candidate Adrian Dix to infuse the grant system with a $100-million funding boost. He also wanted to talk about schemes to eliminate interest rates on government student loans.
Mungall serves as deputy critic for advanced education and labour market development in the NDP shadow cabinet.
She did not offer a speech to open the event, preferring instead to simply listen and respond to questions the students raised. “She contacted us because she wanted to meet with a nonpartisan group and just get our take on post-secondary education,” said Lepp.