Cautiously optimistic, Dupasquier reveals that more remains to be done to ensure implementation
Lena Orlova // Contributor
Fall marks the beginning of the budget drafting season for students and the province alike. In preparation for the 2021 budget, the Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) submitted a number of recommendations to the provincial government. These recommendations include funding open education resources, expanding BC Access Grants to graduate students, capping international student tuition rates equal to the domestic equivalent, and allowing universities to budget a deficit.
Every year, the ABCS—made up of five BC student associations—advocates on behalf of BC post-secondary students to improve student services, as well as affordability and accessibility of education. This year, they played a key role in instituting the Here2Talk app (a 24/7 online mental health support), an eviction moratorium and the BC Access Grant.
On reviewing the ABCS’s Pre-Budget Submission 2020, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services—responsible for acquiring public feedback—released the completed list of recommendations for the provincial government. Grace Dupasquier, Chairperson of the ABCS, is particularly excited about the recommendation supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“All of these issues are things that the ABCS has been highlighting for years, and we look forward to working with the government to ensure these recommendations are actually implemented and used to help students in the most meaningful way possible,” she said, explaining that the fight for accessible education is inseparable from the fight for equality. The present financial crisis exacerbated some of the already existing gaps in accessibility of education for underrepresented communities.
Financial anxiety presses most heavily on women, students who are part of a visible minority, and those without parental support or personal income. According to Statistics Canada, 48 per cent of surveyed students lost their jobs this summer, and they worry about using up their savings to make ends meet. Dupasquier explained that prioritizing post-secondary education means reversing the tide of stagnating government interest.
Since the 1980’s, the BC government has consistently decreased funding to post-secondary institutions. Dupasquier explained that approximately 47 per cent of university funding comes from the government, and that universities balance budgets largely with income coming from international student fees—which have drastically fallen now that many international students can’t return to Canada. If universities lack sufficient funding, many student services are at stake, faculties could be downsized, and course offerings slashed.
But, according to Dupasquier, not all hope is lost. Funding post-secondary education is a long-term investment in the economy. Increasing accessibility to education will equip the future generation of workers to compete, even in a volatile labor market. As the present situation shows, most students remain vulnerable to job instability and worry that their future prospects are diminished. “Our next steps are to continue to push these topics, and make sure that they remain top of mind for [the] government as the next budget is drafted,” said Dupasquier.
“It’s important to understand that just because the Select Standing Committee has included these things in their recommendations, it is not guaranteed that they will actually end up making it into the next provincial budget,” warns Dupasquier. “These aren’t ‘wins’ until there’s been concrete action… Our work won’t be done until anyone who wants an education can pursue one successfully in a welcoming, supportive, and inclusive environment.”