Government continues to mislead British Columbians about student debt, students respond

by MrContentGenerator

Until the end of 2014 the minister responsible for advanced education in British Columbia was Amrik Virk, who was essentially forced to resign for being personally embroiled in shady and likely below board dealings at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Thereafter, Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson has been Minister of Advanced Education in Premier Christy Clark’s cabinet.

Wilkinson quickly develops reputation in post-secondary education

Soon after putting on his big-boy cabinet boots and joining the ranks of cabinet, Minister Wilkinson developed a reputation across the sector for being unnecessarily bullish and overconfident. To the (cautious and quiet) chagrin of post-secondary school administrators, faculty, and students’ unions alike, Wilkinson came into his position strongly determined to ensure that history remembered him as the minister that did nothing but shove the status quo done university’s throats.

Other than being brutish in his personal demeanor, Wilkinson is also happy to be vocally wrong about policy and statistics. The minister got himself into hot water in February 2015 when he asserted to the CBC that most students in BC graduate with no debt. Wilkinson took the opportunity on radio to mislead the public about the student debt crisis by understating the average student debt and understating the number of students who graduate with debt. At the time, the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia skewered the minister on his untruthful comments.

Government doubling down on student debt lies

Despite getting slain in the media over Minister Wilkinson’s February 2015 lies about student debt, government is back at it again. This time, to the benefit of bloggers everywhere (really just us), on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 6.05.20 PM

Despite having the worst system of student financial aid in the whole of Canada, government continues to suggest that it is helping students with the cost of education. In fact, student debt is higher today in British Columbia than ever in the history of the province.

Students responded to government tweets about post-secondary education with some simple truths about accessibility and affordability.

Here is the Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 6.06.25 PMHere, the Chairperson of the University of Victoria Student Society:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 6.22.08 PMVancouver Island University students also don’t like lifelong debt, who knew:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 6.06.49 PMThe most powerful response came from @Cakebot, who posted their personal student debt numbers:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 6.07.09 PMGovernment’s response to the first wave of tweets? “Students don’t seem to get it,” because they then responded with this:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 11.54.30 AMNothing is won or lost on Twitter

On Twitter the conversation about post-secondary education in British Columbia can be found on #bcpse and #cfsbc, but shooting of a 140 character response to government idiocy is less than skin deep. Government gets burnt on social media each and every day, and while it is often useful for activists to coordinate a message so that this space is taken up with the right voices, it rarely gains students ground.

If you are reading this and not already a students’ union representative, then get involved. Nearly all colleges in British Columbia will have students’ union elections in September 2015. Want to see tuition fees reduced and an end to the student debt crisis? Run in a students’ union election. Have your students’ union adopt an anti-tuition campaign.

Universities hold students’ union elections in the January-May semester. Take a chance, work hard, and win the election. Students’ unions such as the UBC AMS or the SFU SFSS have gotten away with a decade of doing nothing to advance students’ demands for better education, it is time for that to stop. New buildings and silly conferences are no replacement for campaigns to reduce tuition fees and students speaking with a united voice.