Student debt an election issue in B.C.

The Victoria Times Colonist notes that the average debt of British Columbia university students has gone from the lowest in Canada to one of the highest in the past seven years:

Students in B.C. graduate with some of the biggest debtloads in the country. They average about $27,000 — the highest in Canada except for the Maritimes and thousands more than the national average of $24,000. That’s a dramatic increase from the average of $18,500 in 2001, when B.C. had the lowest student debt in the country, the Canadian Federation of Students says.”

The average student debt is a big student debt,” says Shamus Reid, chairman of the student federation’s B.C. branch.

“In the last couple of budgets, student loan disbursements and loan applications have dropped,” Reid says. “Low- and medium-income students are simply not applying.”

Students from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds — women, aboriginals, working class people and recent immigrants — are especially affected. Current debt is “up from $17,000 in 1999-2000,” says NDP critic Rob Fleming.

But Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell points to the $78 million in debt relief provided to post-secondary students. Fleming counters that $40 million of that total will disappear in 2010 when funding from the federal Millennium scholarship program ends.

‘In terms of what was offered in 2001, there’s been a $35-million reduction of what the grant program used to have,” Fleming says.

The NDP is campaigning to re-instate the grants eliminated by the Liberal government and top-up the shortfall when the Millennium contribution ends.