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Student Advocates Seek Action on Sexualized Violence Policies

| Chantelle Spicer | On March 18, student advocates from across the country met in Ottawa to discuss an impending national framework to guide post-secondary institutions in their implementation of anti-violence policies. The framework will act as a comprehensive resource to guide post-secondary institutions’ actions in preventing and addressing gender-based violence on campus.

This work is part of the mandate given to Minister Maryam Monsef following her appointment as Minister of the newly created Department of Women and Gender Equality. The new Department replaces the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in Canada, of which Monsef is the former Chair. The work is being undertaken by an advisory council within the Department and includes members who have extensive experience in preventing and addressing gender-based violence in a post-secondary setting.

Thirty “listening and learning” sessions have or will take place throughout March and early April, along with open, online submissions, will make the consultation process, with input being specifically gathered from student-led organisations such as Silence is Violence from the University of Toronto, third-party organizations that exist in post-secondary institutions, as well as administrators and counsellors from across the country. The process is being funded by $5.5 million dollars over 5 years as part of the 2018 budget.

During the March 18 session, students who have experience in anti-violence advocacy had the opportunity to discuss the realities of the implementation of the legislated post-secondary policies, procedures, and educational campaigns.

Many students are skeptical of not only the implementation of policies on campuses, but also the ability of a national framework to improve the experiences of survivors.

Mira El Hussein of the student-led movement Silence is Violence states, “Consultations and frameworks are important, of course, but I’m personally concerned about the possibility that this framework will not include any form of accountability measures to hold these institutions responsible for their treatment of survivors.”

Hussein explains that as universities are implementing anti-sexualized violence policies, there are issues around the policies and procedures being  unclear, maintaining the institution’s interests above those of survivors, and are essentially brought in to tick off a checkbox as opposed to actually enact any meaningful, structural change. A recent report from Silence is Violence Again outlined all these issues and more.

“We have been doing the work. We have been consulting our communities. We have been fighting,” Hussein states. “I’m hard pressed to believe that a framework will come close to solving the problems of chronic underfunding of services, fundamental administrative neglect, and an unwillingness to listen to voices that so desperately need to be heard, like the voices of IBPOC survivors, 2SLGBTQ survivors, disabled survivors, survivors who are sex workers etc. With all that said, I’m looking forward to seeing the actual draft soon, I think that that will be a defining moment.”

Currently, the Selkirk College Students’ Union is analyzing the College’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Policy through criteria outlined by the national organistaion Students for Consent Culture (formerly Our Turn). This analysis could help direct education to be incorporated into student and residence orientation for the Fall 2019 semester. The College is scheduled to review the policy in January of 2020, providing plenty of time for consideration and incorporation of student concerns that may arise from the current review.

The College has undertaken some work to educate the campus community on the issues of violence and harassment. This includes the development of a hand guide and web content offering direction for those who have experienced violence.

Despite this, Rebekkah Ankenmann, Director at-Large at the SCSU, is concerned about the shortfalls in the policy and resources available for students.

“Being critical of institutional sexual violence policy is of utmost important as these are the policies that determined how we will be treated at our most vulnerable points. Allowing full power of this process to be put into the institution creates an imbalance towards the students. It is our education and lives that are going to be strongly impacted. Policy needs to be centred around making the survivor feel empowered to make the decisions that are right for them. Policy needs to leave the antiquated perspective of protecting the institution in the past.”

Connor Spencer, Outreach Coordinator for the SFCC, explains the importance of considering the unique need of rural campuses in this work.

“We need to make sure that rural campuses are not being left out of discussions about concrete ways we can address campus sexual violence – there needs to be a recognition that the realities for rural campuses looks different and therefore the solutions need to be different. Provinces need to commit more funding, regional committees that can do external investigations and oversight need to be set up, and confidentiality needs to be handled in a way that understands the needs of a smaller community.”

This work is part of a larger national conversation, particularly following the recent release of province-wide survey results undertaken by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Results showed that 63% of university students and 50% of college students reported they have experience some type of sexual harassment.

The draft National Framework is scheduled to be announced and presented in May.

2019 Federal Budget Provides More Funding for Indigenous Students

Following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls for action, post-secondary institutions across the country sought to increase the number of Indigenous students on campus, as well as support events focused on reconciliation. Many institutions, such as Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, have seen significant funding for their reconciliation work such as the $13.5 million from Mastercard. Despite this funding for institutions, many Indigenous students continue to face difficulties and limitations in accessing funding for a post-secondary education, which occurs through the federal Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP).

While much of the post-secondary education system is under the purview of provincial governments, the federal government maintains responsibility for Indigenous education, international students, student financial aid, and graduate research funding. The Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) apportions money to band councils which is generally passed on as non-repayable grants to band members.

In the 1990s, the Liberal Party of Canada government capped funding increases to the PSSSP. As tuition fees continued to skyrocket over the subsequent two decades, PSSSP funding failed to keep pace. The result is that already stretched band councils were forced the make impossible decisions about funding for band members to attend post-secondary institutions. Indigenous people attain post-secondary degrees at a rate far below the popular average. Even the Right Honourable Paul Martin, Minister of Finance at the time, has since suggested that introducing the PSSSP cap was a mistake.

The recent 2019 Budget announcement seeks to correct this as the PSSSP will receive a number of investments for Indigenous students and communities. This includes and expansion of the program by $327.5 million for First Nations communities to disperse to those seeking post-secondary education, while also working with Indigenous communities to develop long-term post-secondary education models. Inuit communities will see an investment of 125.5 million over ten years. A Métis Nation-led post-secondary education strategy consisting of financial assistance for Métis Nations students will see an investment of $362.0 million over ten years.

Some advocates within Indigenous education and sovereignty are concerned about how the funding will be managed, given the limitations that exist under the current system.

That will make the ongoing consultation and review of the program promised by the budget and Ministry integral to successful implementation of the investment.

 

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Kootenay Residents Fight for Threatened Forest Lands

| Save Cottonwood Society |The Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) announced March 21 that they have purchased some of the private land surrounding Cottonwood Lake. The 21.6 hectare section of land will be added to Cottonwood Lake Regional Park and preserved from logging.

“We’re grateful that the RDCK, with the help of the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT), has made this first purchase of land,” says Andrew McBurney of the Cottonwood Lake Preservation Society (CLPS). “We’d like to thank the many people who made donations and wrote letters to show our political leaders how valuable this forest is to the community. We appreciate that the RDCK directors and dedicated Parks staff have worked very hard to make this happen”

Despite the expansion of Cottonwood Lake Regional Park, the society is concerned about the remaining private land above Cottonwood Lake still under threat.

“The Cottonwood Lake area has essentially been subdivided,” McBurney continues, “and the RDCK and CBT have purchased land on the west shore of the lake, the entrance to the park, and alongside the Great Northern Rail Trail. So the larger portion of land (67%) above Cottonwood Lake is still privately owned and very much under threat. There is no zoning for this area and private land logging is still unregulated. When we began this initiative, our community-backed goal was to preserve all of the land around the lake, as well as the beautiful forests above Apex. We’ll take the good news of today’s announcement and keep looking for ways to save the remaining land. This entire corridor is simply too valuable to give up on. From threatened grizzly bears, sensitive wetlands, risks of flooding and the blemish on our reputation as an uncommonly beautiful place- the reasons for continuing are infinite.”

The society has raised over $50,000 on GoFundMe and increased their fundraising goal to $150,000 last month. They are still actively fundraising with the intention to preserve more land in the following months.

The CLPS is holding a second public meeting at the Rod & Gun Club on Wednesday, April 3rd from 6-8 pm, to hear community feedback on the RDCK’s purchase and discuss how the society can best use its funds to secure more land. Representatives from both the CLPS and the RDCK will provide an update and answer questions. 

“We need to come together again, like we did on that cold night in December and decide on our vision for the Apex-Cottonwood area,“ says McBurney. “Do we want to see it chopped up into clearcuts, or do we want to preserve it as an important centre for generations to come?”

In addition to the public meeting, the society is also holding a live music fundraiser at the Capitol Theatre Tuesday, April 2nd. More details can be found at savecottonwood.com

Federal Budget Promises Some Relief for Students

The 2019 Federal Budget announcement on March 19 holds some relief for student loan holders. Budget 2019 limits interest charged on student loans to the prime rate of interest; the existing interest rate ranges from prime plus 2.5% to prime plus 5%. Additionally, it removes interest charged on student loans during the six-month grace period following the end of studies. Government estimates suggest this change will save borrowers an average of $2,000 over the loan repayment period.

Selkirk College Students’ Union Chairperson Santanna Hernandez its pleased to hear about the steps taken for students in the federal budget.

“Upon hearing about the reduction of the interest on students loans to prime it is a great first step, I’m thankful to know I will be able to put those thousands of dollars in savings into supporting my children and hopefully buying my first home.

This is good news for the SCSU and the BC Federation of Students who had launched the Knock Out Interest on Student Loans campaign on March 5, which received over 150 signatories in the first two hours.

The online campaign seeks to impact students far beyond British Columbia as nearly 500,000 Canadian students turn to student loans to help cover the cost of their education. Charging interest on student loans forces those who need student loans to pay more for their education than someone who could afford to pay tuition fees up front, disproportionately affecting low and middle-income students and families.

Wayne Stetski, MP for Kootenay-Columbia and recently appointed BC NDP Caucus Chair, had already taken up the call in writing the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, hoping to see the elimination of federal student loan interest be included in the 2019 Federal Budget.

Hernandez appreciates the stand undertaken by Stetski on behalf of students stating, “at the SCSU we are really privileged to have a good long standing relationship with our local representatives such as MP Wayne Stetski, by having the opportunity for open dialogue we are able to collaborate on working towards meaningful change. As students you can feel disregarded in some political settings, so when you feel heard, respected and see our partners advocating for us we have the chance to believe our future matters.”

Over the course of a decade, he recognizes that students relying on loans end up paying thousands of dollars more for their education. He adds that this is even worse considering that many young Canadians are “graduating with record educational debt in a time of stagnant wages, precarious work, and soaring housing costs.”

Hernandez hopes that federal interest rates will follow the same process seen at the provincial level in BC, with reduction to prime followed by the recent announcement of elimination, taking steps to level the playing field for low-income students across the country.

There are other pieces of the budget that will affect students and their communities outside of costs directly related to tuition, which will be analyzed over the coming days.


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Educational Equity Through Free Menstrual Products

| Chantelle Spicer | Across the country, public institutions from libraries to high schools are beginning to offer free menstrual products, with many colleges and universities across the country beginning to contribute to the movement.

Currently, only a handful of post-secondary institutions offer free menstrual products including Centennial College, Mount St Vincent University, Carleton University, and University of Kings College. In the province, Langara College is currently considering how to implement the initiative.

Nancy Pollak, coordinator of the women’s studies program at Langara College, states taking action on this is important as “it does make a difference in women’s ability to participate in their communities wholeheartedly.”

The efforts of advocates at Centennial College have been made through the Free the Tampons campaign, which is dedicated to breaking down stigmas around menstruation and raising awareness around issues of equity for all who menstruate.

Shannon Brooks, Centennial’s associate vice-president of corporate services, said the initiative was proposed by a male staff member, who having taken for granted that using the restroom was an all-inclusive, complimentary service, was dismayed to learn that people who menstruate have to provide for their own supplies.

“It’s one of those things that it’s always been that way, so you don’t really think about it,” Brooks said. “To me, this is a way of changing expectations.”

Recent victories in menstrual-related equity have been celebrated within the British Columbia K-12 system when the New Westminster School Board voted to install coin-free dispensers in every girls’ and universal bathroom in every school in their district, becoming the first in Canada to adopt such a policy.  

The idea came from Douglas College professor Selina Tribe, who pitched the initiative to the school board.

“We know that girls, if they can’t manage their periods properly, will remove themselves from activities, from extracurricular or athletic activities, also social activities, and in the worst case, they will actually miss school.”

In May, a survey was conducted by Plan International Canada, and found that one-third of women under the age of 25 in Canada have struggled to pay for menstrual products. This is particularly important in post-secondary considering the rates of student hunger and poverty generally.

“Tampons are pricey for any woman, but women who can hardly afford to buy food can’t afford to buy a $10 box of tampons, leaving them to choose between food or feeling comfortable when on their period,” states a Selkirk College student who wished to remain anonymous.

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.”

Open Education Resources Reduce Cost to Post-Secondary

| Chantelle Spicer | In the coming years, students in British Columbia will hopefully be saving some money and having access to more innovative resources due to the work of BCcampus. The Crown corporation, funded primarily through the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills, and Training, works to provide teaching, learning, educational technology, and open education support to the post-secondary institutions of British Columbia.

The organisation announced this year that student savings on textbook costs have reached approximately $10 million – and the savings continue to grow each year. Programs like Zed-Cred that exist at Thompson Rivers University and Kwantlen Polytechnic focus on reducing costs to post-secondary education by enabling students to earn a credential such as a certificate program or associate degree with zero textbook costs.

At Selkirk College, adoption of open education resources has been slower.

Chief Librarian Gregg Currie states that “we are more than happy to do anything we can support more open education resources, but it’s the professor’s choice to use this material – we need are more early adopters here to lead the way. We have a few, but without that critical mass, it is more of a challenge to make change.”

The Selkirk Library holds 55,000 books, rights to 45,000 journals, and a few million full-text articles that can be accessed through the Selkirk Library catalogue, but there are concerns about the trend in how institutions and students can gain access to knowledge and resources.

“In terms of open access there are increasingly more journals that can be accessed. However, for some fields like the bulk of scientific publishing for instance, 50% of that knowledge is held by five publishers.”

This limited access is compounded by regular cuts to institutional funding related to library resources.

“My budget for acquiring new materials has been flat since 2011, though prices go up 7% each year, every year so we are essentially buying 30% fewer resources than I was previously. I understand what students are going through. When I try to buy textbooks for the library reserve, it is painfully obvious to me how expensive it is for students – sometimes it can be $1,000 a semester.”

There is hope for open education resources beginning to shift post-secondary away from the corporate structures of publishing companies and college budget cuts. 

“The nice thing about open education resources is that it is in the spirit of intellectual inquiry moving forward in a free and open manner. That’s the danger of where we are now – five companies own access to half of the world’s knowledge. This concentrated access in very few hands at a very high cost is not a good thing. And smaller institutions like Selkirk are being left behind by pricing models.”

Yasmine Monrose, who is attending Selkirk in the Post Graduate Business Administration program, describes the access to textbooks is another barrier to education outside of the cost of education itself.

“When I am unable to afford the books I have to loan them from the library over night in order to be able to do my assignment. Usually it’s strain. In addition, the library has recently discontinue being able to use some book in reserve overnight. I do not know if this was intentional but I guess it’s a way of forcing students to purchase the text from the book store.”

It is not just within the classroom that increasing expensive and proprietary textbooks impact on students.

“Sometimes buying textbooks means not being able to eat properly for a month,” Monrose explains. “It limits what I can purchase from the supermarket.”

The BC Federation of Students voted unanimously at the July 2018 Semi-Annual General Meeting to donate $30,000 to BCcampus. Increased Ministry funding to the organisation was also recommended in the Federation’s government lobby document for the BC Budget 2019. 

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An Open Student Letter to the Selkirk College Board of Governors

Dear Board Members:
Re: Proposed Tuition Fee Increases – Letter of Protest

As a mature student who has enjoyed Selkirk College credit and non-credit (Distance and ‘Bum-in-the-Seat’) courses for a number of years, I am writing to indicate my dismay by the Board’s planned consideration of a tuition fee increase.

I am a current student, I have an adult daughter who completed her education elsewhere in the province, and I have a son who is a Camosun Plumbing grad, and now a 2nd year Nursing student down on the Coast.

The bulk of my courses have been taken in recent decades while I ever so slowly make progress working towards a degree. I put aside my studies while I raised two children who now experience the same financial struggles I endured. Long, long ago, I was a working student forced out of full-time post-secondary by having to combine a job with part-time studies. I then sought full-time employment in order to retroactively pay for my studies. Lack of affordability interrupted my post-secondary education for longer than my child-raising years. I am a testament to what happens when tuition continues to rise. I tried to stay in school by working during term time, then eventually I had to forgo my studies and just work. With the cost of tuition, school became an ill-afforded luxury. In our family’s case, all three student members have relied on or currently study with the support of external funding, largely due to the fact that tuition in this province is too expensive for many students to afford school without assistance.

My daughter has been paying off her student loans for over ten years, and will continue for some time. Her graduate studies are on the back burner. She is terrified of returning to school for the same reason she didn’t continue her studies more than ten years ago – the prospect of increasing her debt load due to Canada’s relatively hefty tuition fees alarms her.

Last night my nursing student son in Victoria was “on the brink” as he told me he will probably have to find work due to a shortfall in the external funding that supplements his summer earnings. His alternative in finding funds to augment his student loans, will be to take out a loan from our credit union, ​IF t​ hey will approve this for him with his current student loan debt load. (He is a Camosun student counterpart to those here in the Selkirk Nursing program – all will end up with degrees from the University of Victoria). He combines his already heavy course load with two full days a week as an unpaid student nursing clinician in hospital practical sessions, which are mandatory for the school entire year. Despite an amazing scholarship from one of the “big banks”, he, a careful spender who knows how to budget, has already amassed student loan debt and is distracted by the thought of having to repay those loans. That he and his contemporaries are being forced to seek bank and credit union loans in order to support basic living and tuition costs is an unreasonable situation when the country needs medical and other student professionals to graduate debt- and worry-free.

How will our nursing and other professional students find the time to add low-paying or minimum-waged work shifts – precarious employment at that – to their class times, their study hours and their practical clinical obligations?

Financial pressures apply to most Selkirk students … and similarly to ​allstudents in Canada. Students mortgage their lives in order to educate themselves to be productive members of society. Whether they are here at home as student nationals, or whether they will return home, abroad, as Selkirk’s International student graduates, the economic strain for students is palpable.

To add to a student’s financial worries by increasing student debt or by making post-secondary education elusive by rising tuition fees is a disservice to the future of this country.

Constantly, I hear international students on their phones in the cafeteria and in the stairwells begging family members in India or other countries to please find ways to send more money so they can pay their fees before being forced to unenroll. I have received calls from International students imploring me to rent him or her a room for $200 or $250 because “Ma’am I have to pay $5000 tuition, I cannot afford regular (affordable in current terms) room rent.” They are asking their families and the local communities to effectively subsidise their education costs by by increasing their support, or by reducing their charges. Three, four, five students cram into local one bedroom apartments, or one room motel accommodations or single bedrooms in Selkirk’s generous neighbourhoods because they cannot afford to eat properly after struggling to pay tuition that is already expensive.

Students who suffer and worry about their finances cannot concentrate on their schoolwork. They, ​we,​ are desperate. Students simply cannot afford living expenses, ridiculously priced textbooks, and ​current ​tuition fees, let alone a rise in tuition fees.

Selkirk College is renowned for its philosophy regarding accessible education. We have brilliant, committed, compassionate faculty (​wellunderpaid by the way – which is actually a form of tuition subsidy​). We have supportive non-teaching staff, and kind administrators who make it their business to get to know individuals in order to support them throughout their studies. Even the cafeteria staff are full of encouragement as sleepy-eyed students drag themselves through the cash-desk for a decently-priced coffee or for amazing meals that are substantial enough to affordably share with a friend or two. We have janitorial and security staff who are kind and good-humoured to everyone who shares this incredible community, especially after-hours and on weekends when the over-crowded library and “the pit” are in constant use. The Selkirk community is all about access ​and retention. However, if the fees are increased, “we the people” will either not be able to afford to come or will have to leave …

Selkirk’s unique approach to not ​getting in the way ​of student success, but to proactively ensure achievement by cheer-leading from all corners, has to be part of the consideration when fees are discussed. To increase tuition fees flies in the face of all the accessible education programmes for which Selkirk is known. Even the local radio station announcers “wax on” about this beacon of hope, our treasured educational institution located in pockets throughout the region. This is unheard of outside the Kootenays.

The sports teams are called the ‘Saints’ with good reason. The name “selkirk” has its origins in Scotland, and in Gaelic means: “hall”(sel) of “church”(kirk). Selkirk has had a long-held, almost biblical, ​mission ​of protecting post-secondary options for those in need, or “hungry” for an education, i.e. those who would not otherwise have access to affordable studies. Selkirk is a blessing to this province and to the people in the region. As ethical guardians of accessibility we can’t have come this
far to now make an evil mess of what’s so wonderful about this school.

Please reject the notion of a tuition fee increase and instead work to find creative methods to approve a responsible balanced budget that reflects the financial reality of a student’s life. There ​are ​ways … Your board is made up of some very influential and creative professionals who have experience making things work out. Please actually consider something even more reasonable: reduce and/or eliminate fees in the future.

By sourcing funding in ways other than on the backs of vulnerable students who need to not worry about staying in school, (or staying in the country), Selkirk College will sustain its well-earned reputation as a unique and true facilitator of excellence in post-secondary education.

Students should be concerned only about attending to their studies, meeting the obligations of their programs, and honouring the inspirations of their committed faculty. By being successful in their goals to succeed – with an affordable education – students will continue to be patriotic ambassadors of Selkirk college, and that is hardly an unsaintly outcome.

How will students be expected to follow Selkirk’s motto, “​Best of all, inquire​”, if they are not able to afford to maintain studies here?

Let’s not “sell” out Selkirk …

Respectfully yours,
Sheila Perret
TESOL and MTED student 2018-19

Organisations Support Students for BC Budget 2019

| Chantelle Spicer | The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released recommendations for the upcoming BC Budget 2019 that include implications for the post-secondary sector and affordability for students.

The CCPA notes that the lack of funding to post-secondary institutions has contributed to increasing student debt.

“For public post-secondary institutions, provincial operating grants have plummeted as a share of revenue, and institutions have been forced to increase reliance on tuition fees, which is pushing student debt to new heights and eroding the public nature of these institutions.”

The submission to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services from the Selkirk College Students’ Union recognized this, as well as what this means for the quality of student experience.

“The ongoing pressure faced by institutions has meant reductions in student services and instructional capacity, unmet needs for facility maintenance, and deferral of equipment upgrades needed to ensure that equipment-intensive programs remain effective. While institutions have met the challenge admirably, the cracks in system now stripped to bare bones are showing in reported student outcomes.”

The CCPA also calls for increased supports for students through a comprehensive grants program “for lower-income families with the aim of moving towards a universal reduction and ultimately elimination of tuition fees.”

In the presentation to the Committee, the Students’ Union expressed the need for government to do better for students in the province.

Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of the Students’ Union stated in the presentation: “In the past, the various government have made claims that, because BC’s tuition fees were about average compared to other provinces, that there was no problem. Without considering the vast living cost differences we see across this country or the objective problems of high fees in all provinces. Frankly, I do not want a government that strives to be average.”

These recommendations, along with others from student organisations and post-secondary institutions across the province, were recognized in the Committees report. In terms of affordability, the Committee recommended eliminating interest on student loans and reviewing “completion grant” and “up-front needs-based grant” models with the aim of ensuring post-secondary students have access to the most beneficial and impactful support.

The BC Budget will be presented in the Bc Legislature on February 19.

Increasing Access to Mental Health for Post-Secondary Students

| Chantelle Spicer | In the beginning of January, the BC government announced plans to provide a 24-hour mental health support service for post-secondary students in the province. This initiative would be a partnership between the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Children and Family Development, and the Ministry of Advanced Education Skills and Training.

This announcement comes following consultation with students across BC including Selkirk College Students Union representatives. Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of the Students’s Union, took part in dialogue with Ministry staff in 2018 and is pleased that the government is taking the issue seriously.

“Post-secondary students today are facing unimaginable stressors like rising tuition cost, lack of employment after graduation and difficulty accessing resources during their studies. Projects like this will help fill a need students desperately have.”

Consultation with students is imperative for understanding what is needed for supports, which need to be increasingly culturally and geographically responsive services. BC Federation of Students Chairperson Aran Armutlu states this process has so far been meaningful.

“The Ministry took the time to seek feedback on ideas and initiatives as they evolved, and the outcome of much of that feedback appears to be reflected in the request for proposals that has been released. I am hopeful that the same level of communication will continue as this initiative develops.” 

Selkirk College provides a variety of campus supports including culturally-responsive counselling, health and wellness initiatives, and recreation programs as well as connections to Kootenay community events.

However, these types of services aren’t always accessible to students in need due to hours or lack of resources.

“We are lucky to have such an amazing team in our Student Access and Support Department,” Hernandez explains, “but unfortunately with minimal resources they can only do so much. Even something as simple as booking an appointment is compromised by lack or resource time for our Welcome center staff responsible for booking appointments.”

Many of these supports have been linked to a controversial student services fee that was introduced to universities and colleges across the province in 2016. At Selkirk, this fee increased student fees by $139 to $207 each academic year in addition to the 2% increase on tuition fees.

The service proposed by the Ministry is seeking to provide phone, online chat, text, and email supports as well as confidential virtual counselling sessions for students that would be available around the clock. A total of $1.5 million has already been approved for the first year of the 24/7 support resource, with further hopes of expanding the program to reach high school students in coming years.

A notice of planned procurement has been posted to BC Bid, advising of plans to develop a 24/7 mental health and substance-use counselling and referral service. A competitive process will be posted shortly.