BC Budget Consultation Report Released

On August 7, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services related their report compiled from the Budget 2020 consultation process. This consultation presents a unique opportunity for British Columbians to directly engage with a committee of Members of the Legislative Assembly on the issues that matter most to them. Many student groups across the province provide lived experiences and needs of their fellow students during this process. By the closing deadline of June 28, the Committee had visited 15 communities across the province, heard 276 presentations, and received 496 written and video submissions.

Of the 106 total recommendations put forward to the government and treasury to consider in budget discussions, a number spoke to improved access and affordability for post-secondary education.

Many students unions identified a need for upfront, needs-based grants program to address these challenges, while others, such as the Simon Fraser Tuition Freeze Now highlighted noted that tuition makes up a larger proportion of revenues than government funding at some institutions, highlighting the need for both a tuition freeze and increase in government funding to the systems. The Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia also shared concerns during their presentations about underfunding of post-secondary institutions, highlighting that BC lags behind other provinces in this regard.

Also of note was the recognition of need for affordable housing for students and capital funding for these projects. The Teaching Support Staff Union and the Graduate Student Society from Simon Fraser University both highlighted the need for greater protection within student residences. Rising rents, high demand and low vacancy rates make it difficult for students to find adequate and affordable housing in urban centres across BC. Furthermore, the Residential Tenancy Act does not cover university residences, meaning there is no cap on allowable annual residence rental rate increases. 

Other areas relevant to student need include supports for Indigenous student services and programs, mental health and well-being, elimination of precarious labour for faculty, and regulation of international student fees and an update to the international education strategy.

In terms of access and affordability, the report states “Committee Members found the arguments for shifting to a needs-based grant system compelling. They expressed interest in additional analysis that examines different grant and financial assistance structures to ensure students are well-supported.”

Many of these same recommendations were also highlighted in the 2019 Budget recommendations from the Committee, though many of these, including investigating a need-based grant system, have not been reported on or fulfilled.

Santanna, Hernandez, Chairperson of the Selkirk College Students’ Union expressed dismay at the recommendations put forward to government.

“When the recommendations are to examine the same things that have been put forward for some time, I am a bit disappointed. I was really hoping to see more actionable recommendations for post secondary. The report at least shows that they heard what’s important to us.”

Tanysha Klassen, Chairperson of the BC Federation of Students expressed that though the recommendations released are very similar to previous years, they agree that it is important to see student needs and voices continuously recognized and reported on.

“Following on the momentum of the elimination of interest, we are hoping to see action happen in the 2020 budget. We always want to be pushing for tangible wins for students and the Budget is a great time to see this happen.”

The BC Budget 2020 will be released in February.