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Post-secondary students in B.C. face dire debt situation, says NDP critic

While forgiving debt is a way to help B.C. post-secondary students dig out of the financial hole, grants are a better alternative, said B.C.'s advance education critic.

David Eby, a B.C. NDP MLA who was at Vancouver Island University recently to discuss the state of college and university education in the province, said it would cost $32 million a year for the province to eliminate interest on student debt.

“I think its a far better program to put in place student grants at the front end, where students then don't have to borrow the money in the first place and something that's totally doable,” said Eby. “It was in our election platform ... the province could do it tomorrow if it chose to and those grants would help reduce the burden on students when they graduate with student debt.”

Eby said it is becoming increasingly difficult for students to pursue education after high school, citing statistics that point to the average B.C. student debt at graduation totalling close to $35,000, as opposed to the $29,400 in the U.S. There is a dire situation facing students, he said.

“The crisis that we're facing is you can't even borrow enough money to go to school anymore,” Eby told the News Bulletin. “Tuition and living expenses are so high that we're shutting out a whole cohort of people from education and this is at a time when employers are telling people, telling government, that they can't find the skills they need amongst the domestic population here and they need to bring in temporary foreign workers.

“We hire double the national average of temporary, foreign workers while young people are out of work and out of school in record numbers.”

He said school should be accessible to people of all income backgrounds. Students should not have to put their education on private lines of credit or credit cards and should have the support to finish a four-year program in four years.

“If that happens then we will be competitive with other provinces and we'll be competitive internationally because we have the best schools in the world, in my opinion, and so I really hope the government takes this seriously, investing in the next generation's labour force here in British Columbia because that's not happening the way it should be right now,” he said.

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