B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix speaks at UFV on Thursday.

B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix speaks at UFV on Thursday.

NDP take aim at cuts to post-secondary education

Adrian Dix says he’s making students and the B.C. Liberal’s cut to post-secondary institutions a centre-piece of his party’s campaign.

NDP Leader Adrian Dix says he’s making students and the B.C. Liberal government’s cut to post-secondary institutions a centre-piece of his party’s election campaign.

“What we’re seeing today is the abandonment of a generation of young people who all of us are expecting to sustain and grow our economy,” Dix told reporters before a tour of the UFV Trades and Technology Centre in Chilliwack last week. “I think we need to take a different road.”

That road would see non-refundable grants made available to B.C. students continuing on to post-secondary institution, and a possible reduction of interest rates on student loans.

Dix said he’s been told the party can’t run an election campaign on such an issue.

“But we’re going to do that because I think these are the central issues of our time,” he said.

“We have given priority to our interests over the interests of the next generation,” he said. “I think that needs to change.”

The BC Liberal government cut $70 million from the post-secondary budget, but that flies in the face of the government’s own rhetoric, Dix said.

“There is a massive gap in B.C. between the skills young people have and the skills they’re going to need in the future,” he said, yet the BC Liberal government cut $70 million out of its post-secondary budget.

“It shows how out of touch they are with their own rhetoric because at the centre of the (government’s) jobs plan was the recognition of the skills shortage,” he said.

But Chilliwack MLA John Les said the “ever so slight” cut can be made up by administrative savings, rather than reductions in student services or programs.

“We’re asking the universities to reduce spending on the administration side,” he said. “We believe, with some justification, a little bit of belt-tightening can be accomplished there, too.”

Laurie Throness, the BC Liberal candidate in the Chilliwack-Hope byelection, said the budget legislation spells out “very clearly” that the one per cent cut was only on the administrative side.

“It could be covered by reducing travel expenses, like using Skype instead of travelling to meetings … there are many ways the budget can be shaved by a very small amount,” he said.

However, 26 post-secondary presidents, including Mark Evered at UFV, said in a letter to the Advanced Education Minister that it is “unrealistic” that the budget cut “can be achieved without implications for service levels.”

But Throness said administrations “never want to change,” but economic conditions can and do change.

“We have to tailor our expectation to the ability to pay,” he said, adding that “taxpayers have had enough … they want people to trim expenses and be more frugal.”

Steve McLeod, a culinary student at the trades and technology centre, said two semesters there are going to cost him $5,000.

A non-refundable grant would encourage more students to take post-secondary training and help fill that shortage of skilled workers in B.C., he said.

And why shouldn’t the corporations that will benefit from the trained workers help pay for the non-refundable grants, he asked.

“Why not have some of the responsibility fall on their shoulders,” he said.