NDP critic talks to Douglas College students
Provincial NDP advanced education critic Michelle Mungall went into a session with Douglas College students knowing feeling the same angst they do.
Mungall visited the New Westminster campus with local New Democrat candidate Judy Darcy on Tuesday. Mungall, 35, is in her first term as MLA for Nelson-Creston and not far removed from academia and the burden of student loans.
Mungall said the top issue for students is affordability with the average debt for a post-secondary graduate being $27,000.
"B.C. is one of the highest in the country, and the interest rate is higher than anywhere else," said Mungall in an interview prior to her appearance.
B.C., she points out, is the only province not having a financial needs grant program. What that means, she said, is young people, as they become adults, are having to wait much longer for their lives to evolve.
"They're not having kids, houses, cars, investment because of their massive debt load," said Mungall. "That burden is getting greater and greater."
Mungall is still working to pay off loans she took out to get her masters degree, which she began studying for four years after getting her political science degree from the University of Alberta.
"It's going to take a while to pay it off. My debt load was close to the average. We won't even talk about undergrad [debt]," she said.
She noted the first commitment new NDP leader Adrian Dix made was to provide $100 million to establish a financial needs grant fund.
The native of St. Albert, Alta., who grew up in a political household that strongly supported the Conservatives, said overall B.C.'s community college system is one of excellence. Institutions like Douglas College, she said, make it relatively painless to move on to university and they also provide much needed diploma programs. But it's a system being challenged by the BC Liberals.
"The entire system is hurting right now. They have had stagnant funding since 2008. Now they're having a cutback of $46 million," said Mungall adding the burden is on the schools to replace the money. "Where are they going to find that?"
Mungall pointed out the Liberals suggested the schools get together and share services. They've done that, but the patchwork solution has only brought savings of $38 million over six years.
"They're cramming numbers into a short time frame to balance a budget," she said.
In November 2011, Mungall introduced a private members bill to beef up the regulation of private colleges.
"There's a few bad apples out there making it very difficult for everybody else," said Mungall.
The industry is self-regulated and Mungall doesn't see that as appropriate.
"Most people are concerned about that and they want to see stronger regulations and more transparent regulations," she said. "Any time a student feels cheated out of [an education] whether it's misinformation about the product or a sudden closure, [it's not right]."
Private English as a Second Language schools are of particular concern to her because of some of them having questionable practices.
"They struggle in this type of environment [of non-regulation]," said Mungall.
B.C. is the only province that doesn't regulate those schools, she said, and both the students and the reputable schools want to see a stronger system that is oriented toward student protection.
Mungall and Darcy praised the Douglas student union for trying to get the vote out for the May 14 election. Mungall pointed out only 25 to 30 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds vote compared to 90 per cent for seniors.
"That is a huge disproportion," said Mungall.