BC Budget 2019 Eliminates Interest on Student Loans

On February 19th, Finance Minister Carol James announced the upcoming investments for a 2019 BC Budget that attempts to address poverty reduction and climate action. Along with the Budget came the much anticipated elimination of interest rates on the provincial portion of student loans, following through on 2017 campaign promises. This announcement is accompanied by other investment in post-secondary including further funding for adult basic education, English-language learning, and trades training.

BC now joins Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in providing interest-free provincial student loans. It is estimated that this will save students a total of $318 million in interest payments.

This follows many years of advocacy on behalf of students and their allies seeking to reduce unprecedented student debt. The most recent campaign undertaken by the BC Federation of Students was a call to action  for the government to address the effects of interest rates on student loans. During the campaign period that began in October, 2,000 emails were sent to Minister James along with over 90 meetings with MLAs during the organisation’s lobby week.

“Students are very happy that the government has listened to our call and has taken this important step towards mitigating student debt,” said Aran Armutlu, Chairperson of the BC Federation of Students. “This announcement will not only help current and future students, but also those who have completed their studies and are struggling to make loan payments.”

This investment is small relative to the scale of the budget, but it will make significant changes in the lives of some of low-income students who are forced to pay more for their education than those able to afford tuition upfront.

Selkirk College Students Union Chairperson, Santanna Hernandez, was present in Victoria for the announcement.

“This is an incredible announcement for BC students. As someone graduating with over $40,000 in student loan debt, this means my education will cost the same as those sitting in the seats beside me. It means students can look to the future to starting families, buying houses and positively contributing to our local economy.”

BC Budget 2019 addressed other issues that effect students such as housing, public infrastructure such as transit and community health centres, accessible child care, and mental health and addiction services.

Though many students across the province are expressing gratitude for the announcement, there is also recognition that this is the only first step  towards addressing the significant debt being carried by many.

The BC Federation of Students is already looking ahead to what steps can be taken next, building off the momentum of the recent recognition of mounting student debt.

“This is welcome relief, but there are also other steps government can take in the future. This includes the creation of an up-front, needs based grants program, and proper funding for our institutions that is coupled with the progressive freezing and reduction of tuition fees. These are issues that students in BC have identified as priorities. With one goal achieved, I look forward to the work we can do together to continue to make post-secondary education more affordable and accessible in our province.”