NDP’s pledge to scrap student loan interest makes them best bet for post-secondary students

The Vancouver Observer’s Contributing Education Editor, Patti Bacchus, rates the post-secondary education planks of the platforms. 

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The B.C. Liberals promise to keep capping tuition rates at two per cent and to bring student loan interest rates down to prime rate. It’s an improvement from the current high interest rates (relative to other provinces) but doesn’t go as far as the NDP’s promise to make loans interest free.

Is education about creating workers or educating good citizens?

What’s the purpose of education? I get a little queasy when people talk about re-jigging our public education institutions to “meet the workforce demands of industry” instead of focusing on educating citizens in a broader sense.

To me, higher learning should not only be about getting a job, it should provide students with a rich understanding of history and culture and teach them to be critically thinking, problem-solving citizens who are well equipped to participate fully and effectively in democratic society.

I studied sociology, psychology, philosophy, Latin, French, literature, anthropology and political science in university and they all enriched my life and informed my thinking ever since.

They gave me a broader view of the world and helped me make sense of my place in it. What I learned from those studies became the lenses through which I view and navigate the rapidly changing world.

None of them directly prepared me for a job — or in B.C. Liberal parlance, they didn’t “align with workforce demand” nor the Green party’s goal of ensuring courses are “more aligned with the needs of employers.” But they made me better at the jobs I did and prepared me well for journalism school.

I shudder and struggle to recall what the needs of early 1980s employers might have been and what I might have ended up studying if that was the thinking in those days. I appreciated having choice about what to study and I hope students still get that.

I cringed a few years ago when Clark’s government was paying for students to attend LNG “conferences” and pushing students to don hardhats and find their fit — in an industry that may never be in B.C.

And what about ten years from now, 20 or 30? What will those students do then? 

Which brings me back to the platforms. The similarity between the Liberals and Greens is striking — they both pledge to “better align investments into programs for in-demand jobs” (Liberals) and “courses will be more aligned with the needs of employers” (Greens).

I’m not opposed to making sure students have access to programs that will prepare them for good-paying jobs, but we need to be careful we’re not letting short-term industry workforce needs shortchange other programs that provide value beyond immediate and specific vocational training.

Tallying up the marks

I give the NDP and Greens marks for scrapping the Liberals’ mean-spirited, penny-wise, pound-foolish fees for adult education upgrading courses. I’ll give the Liberals a mark for promising to keep its tuition cap and reducing student loan rates to prime.

I’m leery about the Liberals’ excitement about technology this time — it reminds me too much of where it was trying to go with LNG last time.

Students who train for tech jobs today could find themselves obsolete and lacking skills a decade from now. The NDP is also promising to invest in education opportunities in the technology sector.

The Liberals talk about training for “the job” you want — ignoring the reality that most graduates today will have multiple jobs over their working years — something the Greens note in their platform.  

I really like the NDP’s plan to scrap loan interest altogether and give graduates a $1,000 head start on repaying loans.

That combined with increased minimum wage and the $10-a-day-childcare plan could make life a lot more affordable for young British Columbians, who’ve inherited sky-high tuition rates and high housing prices and a job market with too many part-time, low-paying jobs.

The NDP gets my top overall mark for post-secondary education but the Greens run close in second place.

The Liberals take last place with no immediate relief for student “debt sentences” and the over emphasis on aligning programs with employer needs vs what’s best for students in the long term — the Greens lose some marks there as well.

 Election day in May 9. Get out and vote.









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