Post-Secondary Student Organizations Across BC Join Global Climate Strike

VANCOUVER, BC - Student organizations all across British Columbia have been participating in the Week for the Future and Climate Justice campaign. The campaign started on September 20th, 2019 with a youth-led strike, continued through the week with additional actions and awareness campaigns, and will culminate in the first ever General Strike for the Climate on September 27th, 2019.

All of the member organizations that the Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) represents have joined the movement, and it’s clear that this is an issue that students across the province are demanding action on. “Our membership is united in the opinion that climate change requires immediate action,” said Gurvir Gill, chairperson of the ABCS. “We stand proudly with our members and with students across the province as they advocate for real and urgent change. For students, climate change is a huge concern, because we are the ones who will be grappling with the consequences down the line if nothing is done now. This is more important than going to class. This is our future.”

ABCS member organizations will be joining strikes in their respective jurisdictions, with most members joining the rally happening in front of Vancouver City Hall at 1:00 p.m. today. The ABCS will continue to support its members and collectively advocate for global climate justice and the rights of students and citizens everywhere to enjoy a safe and secure future.

Work-integrated learning investment brings more opportunities for students to excel

VICTORIA, BC - The Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training has announced another major investment in the future of post-secondary students when they promised $9 million for co-ops and work-integrated learning opportunities.

"Completing your studies is only part of the challenge students face when looking for work," said Noah Berson, chairperson of the Alliance of BC Students (ABCS). "It has become crucial for students to have access to real-world work opportunities, to get a real understanding of the fields they are studying in, and we are thrilled that the Government has recognized the value that students can provide to the economy and employers"

Ensuring that students are fairly compensated for their work is an important step for those transitioning from post-secondary to the job market. Too often, students must make the decision between taking a paying job in a field unrelated to which they are studying or take an unpaid internship that will provide them with the skills required for their future careers. “Work-integrated learning should be an essential component of a students post-secondary experience,” continued Berson.

"We are particularly pleased that the investment announced today will have a focus on giving currently under-represented student groups more co-ops and work-integrated learning opportunities," said Anna-Elaine Rempel, director of research and campaigns of the ABCS. “Indigenous students and students with disabilities have so much to offer in terms of their perspectives and skills and we are excited that they will be supported further in their careers.”

Officers and board members of the ABCS joined the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations this past Fall and brought the importance of work-integrated learning to the Federal Government. Students asked that they adopt the Canadian Career Development Foundation’s 8 recommendations to support Poorly Integrated New Entrants (PINEs) and that they create a part-time job program for post-secondary students modeled after the Canada Summer Jobs program.

Students applaud key funding investment in trades and technology

VANCOUVER, BC - The Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) applauds the investment announced earlier today by the Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training for trades and technology students across the province. The $3 million will be invested in 19 public post-secondary institutions across BC to provide industry-level equipment to ensure students have a smooth transition into their field.

“Without the proper equipment, students are not as prepared for the work environment after graduation," said Noah Berson, chairperson of the ABCS. "Students should have access to the necessary training and equipment during their education so they can be successful in their careers afterwards."

In addition to supporting skills development and higher-quality education, having access to industry-level equipment also promotes safety by providing students with an opportunity to be familiarized with new equipment in the classroom environment.

As a representative for trades and technology students, the ABCS is happy to see this announcement for our members, and students across the province.


"This is a key investment in the future of our students. Trades students especially need to have access to the latest technology and equipment and we are glad to see them being prioritized through this funding,” said Gurvir Gill, vice-president external of the University of the Fraser Valley Student Union Society, representing students from over 20 trades and apprenticeship programs. “This will go a long way in helping our students to move into the next phase of their education and their careers after graduation.”

Students praise funding to address campus sexual violence

VANCOUVER, BC - On the heels of a provincial forum for preventing sexual violence on campuses, students are celebrating the province’s commitment of $760,000 toward sexual violence prevention. This funding is going to support making sure that policies and procedures are in plain language that people can actually understand, and will support coordinated initiatives to help post-secondary institutions work together and share resources to address sexual violence on BC campuses.

"Campus sexualized violence is an epidemic. While one in five women will experience a sexual assault during their time in post-secondary education, certain communities face even higher rates of violence. This is absolutely unacceptable," said Anna-Elaine Rempel, director of research and campaigns of the Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) and co-emcee of the forum. "We are very pleased that the Government listened to us, and agree that this needs to be addressed in meaningful ways."

The ABCS has been advocating on this issue for many years. In 2018, the ABCS collaborated with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations to release Shared Perspectives: A Joint Publication on Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Response, which outlined the importance of implementing programs, workshops, and resources to actualize policies mandated by provincial governments.
This year, the ABCS has continued working closely with the Government and other community leaders as a strong student voice to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of survivors is at the forefront of the work being done to tackle sexual violence.

"This is an excellent step towards making our campuses a safer environment for students to thrive in," continued Rempel. “We will continue working to make post-secondary institutions a place free from sexual violence in British Columbia.”

BC Removes Student Loan Interest Rate

VICTORIA, BC - The BC Government announced the elimination of interest on student loans in todays budget. Post secondary education shouldn’t have two costs, one cost for those who are able to pay up front, and a higher cost for those that take on student loans to afford their education.

“Every student group has been asking for this for years.” Said Noah Berson, Chair of the Alliance of BC Students, “It is rewarding to see our hard work and advocacy pay off, making education more affordable and helping recent graduates transition into the next phase of their lives.”

When students are charged interest on loans, they have to pay more for their education than those that are able to pay up front. Interest rates on loans make education more expensive for those without the means to attend.

When a British Columbian is making the calculation of whether to attend to post-secondary, cost is going to be a key concern. Knowing that tuition can be repaid without interest increases the value of post-secondary, and offers people assurances that they can enrol with cost certainty.

A British Columbian who had to rely on student loans for their education will now save money every month, allowing them to better save for the next phase of their lives. Governments should not make money on student loans, eliminating interest rates on loans makes financial aid fair, ensuring that low income students are charged the same for their education as those with means.

“Repaying student loans should not force people to put their lives on hold,” stated Berson, “After graduation, the focus should starting your life, saving to buy a home and having children, not being chained to student loan payments.”

Students Release Report on Campus Sexual Violence

VANCOUVER, BC - Students organizations across the country have released a joint publication on campus sexual violence titled, Shared Perspectives : A Joint Publication on Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Response. In the publication, students from Victoria to Charlottetown express the need to eradicate sexual violence on their campuses.

The publication identifies challenges and opportunities that exist in individual provinces, but also looks past provincial borders in order to highlight sexual violence as a national problem that all jurisdictions must work to solve. Shared Perspectives provides an understanding of the issues students experience on campuses across our country, and emphasizes how we must work together at all levels to end sexual violence on post-secondary campuses across Canada.

Public institutions in BC have had sexual violence and misconduct policies in place for almost a year, making this a good time to review the progress that has been made. While some institutions have opened support centers and offered training, others have not been able to do so, and the implementation of the policy has varied from institution to institution.

“The ABCS was excited to partner with CASA to share our perspectives and experiences with sexual violence on campus,”  said Caitlin McCutchen, ABCS Chairperson. “This publication shows that while our experiences are distinct, sexual violence is pervasive across the country, and while there has been progress in some areas no province has found a solution.”

Sexual violence is a systemic problem that affects us all, but students know that sexual violence is a gendered crime, in which women are far more likely to be victimized. Women with disabilities, Indigenous women, LGBTQ+ students, and women of marginalized groups, are at especially high risk of experiencing such crimes. The partners in this publication believe no one should ever be faced with sexual violence, especially when pursuing an education, yet at this time 1 in 5 female students will experience sexual violence during their post-secondary studies. Students are a vulnerable group, and this publication illustrates how essential partnership is in combating the current campus reality and building safer communities.

Shared Perspectives: A Joint Publication on Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Response is the first joint report from all 8 partners, representing over 570,000 students.

Historic Housing Investment for BC Students

VICTORIA, Post-secondary students now have reason to believe that affordability is on the horizon. The Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) is thrilled with the budget announcement today that $450 million will be invested in student housing over the next three years. This massive investment will go a long way to improving affordability and reducing barriers for students across the province. “We have long called for this and we are happy to see a government listen,” said Caitlin McCutchen, ABCS Chairperson “this has been an ABCS priority since 2014.”

This is the first time that the provincial government will have a direct hand in the building of on-campus housing, including direct funding. “This is a transformation in the way the provincial government views student housing and we have been working closely with them on this. We now have a government that is putting the focus on students, and that is a welcome benefit for access to education” further stated McCutchen. Outside of the University of British Columbia, very few institutions have been able to build on-campus housing in the past ten years, despite increasing numbers of students and the rise of the housing crisis.

The budget announcement included 5,000 new spaces that will be directly funded by the province, with an additional 3,000 funded internally by institutions. On-campus housing, at below market rates, is crucial for students who scour the rental market and may still end up spending up to 50% of their incomes on housing that is sometimes crowded, unsafe, or inadequate.

“Moving students onto campus is an innovative solution to the housing crisis,” said McCutchen, “this improves students’ lives, helps universities, and also frees market rental spaces for those that need it.” The announced spaces will help students live closer to where they study, graduate with less debt, and work fewer hours while they are in school. On-campus housing is also beneficial for students who don’t live on campus, as it frees up space in the low cost rental market, reduces congestion on the overcrowded transit routes that service post-secondary institutions, and helps build campus culture.

 

The ABCS Commends Community Housing Initiatives

VANCOUVER, BC – The Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) is pleased to see the announcement made yesterday by the City of Vancouver regarding the launch of their housing strategy. The addition of greater protections for tenants will help provide stability for renters in the city, and targeted densification will make communities more livable and walkable.

“Taking action to address the challenges faced by renters who are struggling to find housing that is affordable, safe, and in the right location is crucial to the wellbeing of students”, states ABCS Chairperson Caitlin McCutchen,  “we hope to see housing strategies that support tenants, and add to the supply of low cost rental units, put forward by more municipalities in Metro Vancouver.”

The creation of a Tenant Protection Manager will help prevent renters from being evicted without cause. Adding protections for tenants who may be in precarious situations is a step towards making renting a more stable long term option. With soaring housing prices making homeownership a possibility for fewer and fewer British Columbians, provisions for renters are more important than ever.

Building townhouses and low rise apartments in strategic locations such as near schools and campuses will help in addressing the specific supply issues that are causing difficulties for renters. These projects provide housing for people who need it, where they want to live, helping lower costs and make communities more walkable. Additional targeted initiatives, such as ensuring that on campus housing is built, could also help address issues of inadequate or unavailable low cost rental units.

  • Read the full press release here

Students Are Getting Out Their Own Vote

VANCOUVER, BC - The Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) has launched its Count On Our Vote campaign in advance of the upcoming provincial election. This campaign is engaging young people on campuses across BC in an effort to pick up the slack of political parties that are ignoring young people, and level the playing field of an electoral system tilted against young people.

The majority of young people will experience their first election while attending college or university. In fact, approximately 80% of post-secondary students will have never voted in a provincial election this May. Despite this, the timing of the election is squeezed precisely between the end of exams in April and the start of summer jobs in mid May - a time when most young people are not engaged. “A May 9th election is the worst possible timing for young people,” stated Alex McGowan, Chairperson of the ABCS. Furthermore, young renters and transient student populations are the worst hit by old proof-of-address requirements that force them to procure mail they may not have, receive mail to a location that may be in flux, or who may not even have a legal mailbox. “Surely there are more innovative ways of verifying residency in 2017,” stated Kim Rutledge, ABCS Director of Campaigns. “We can and must do better.”

Political parties are also failing young people. They put a large portion of their resources into reaching out to their supporters and making sure they show up at the polling station, and play a crucial role in driving voter turnout. However, they simply fail to effectively extend these efforts to young people. “A key focus of the campaign is filling the gap left by ineffective parties by reaching out to young people on campus to make sure that they have all the tools they need to vote,” said Rutledge. Political parties spend much more money on forms of outreach that target older generations, such as mail-outs, landline phone banking, and TV/radio ads. Political parties also put much more volunteer time into canvassing in single-family home neighbourhoods where young people don’t live. Furthermore, the only political party campus clubs that exist are small token groups at UBC, SFU, and UVic. “Where are the parties?” Asked McGowan, “The lack of campus clubs is a huge missed opportunity to engage young people.”

Despite the multitude of barriers and the absence of political parties, the ABCS is optimistic about youth voter turnout. Young people are resiliently getting involved against the odds - the last federal election saw an unprecedented increase in youth voter turnout. The ABCS is working with student societies across BC to ensure that the gaps in the electoral system are filled.

Vancity Supports Call for Student Housing

The Alliance of BC Students welcomes support from Vancity of its call for the provincial government of British Columbia to enable and empower universities and colleges in the province to build more on-campus housing.

In his letter, Vancity’s VP Community Investment William Azaroff acknowledges “BC’s post-secondary students are among those most urgently in need of more affordable housing options.” This builds on recent findings that housing is now the single largest cost facing students in BC, now surpassing tuition.

Vancity supports the ABCS’s message and encourages “universities, colleges, and the provincial government to craft new enabling measures to allow for an infusion of new investment in student housing.”

Students Applaud Student Loan Interest Relief

The BC Government announced in their 2017 budget that they are reducing student loan interest rate from 2.5% above prime to prime. The interest rate for student loans in BC will now drop from the highest in the country to the national average.

"This has been a major ask of ours for a number of years and we're very happy to see that the government has listened," said Alex McGowan, Chair of the Alliance of BC Students, "the national trend is to move towards 0% interest rates, and we're looking forward to working with the government towards that goal."

When students are charged interest on loans, they have to pay more for their education than those that don't have to. The Alliance of BC Students believes that interest rates on loans make education more expensive for those without the means to attend.

A British Columbian who takes on student loans now will only pay an average of $1,500 more for their education than someone who can afford to pay upfront. The ABCS is excited to see the government recognizing the burden placed on student loan holders and taking steps to mitigate these negative effects.

"This is an excellent first step towards making education more affordable" continued McGowan, “we will continue working to make education more affordable and accessible in British Columbia.”

Students Disappointed in Provincial Budget

Vancouver, BC - Students in British Columbia are disappointed by the lack of relief to the financial burdens they face in their post-secondary career. “Today’s budget leaves students behind,” Sacha Fabry, Chairperson of the Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) stated. “B.C. is the only province that does not provide needs based grants, an even greater burden for students when combined with the fact that B.C. charges the highest interest rates on its student loans.”

 

The issues faced by students go beyond student debt. Student housing is in high demand throughout British Columbia, with long waitlists for residences at universities across the province. The provincial government will not allow most post-secondary institutions to build more student housing as this would be considered debt – despite the fact that student housing is self-financed through residence fees, and is not tax- payer supported. Each year, over ten thousand students are left on waitlists between UBC, SFU and UVic alone. “We frankly do not understand why universities aren’t allowed to build housing,” continued Fabry. “On campus student housing would open up the rental housing market for others, without costing the taxpayer.” On-campus housing has long been requested by students in British Columbia, and the provincial select committee on government services and finance recommended enabling universities to build more student residence spaces in 2016.

 

While tuition increases are capped at 2%, student wages are stagnant, housing is growing well beyond inflation, and post-secondary institutions are finding ways to levy additional fees on students beyond the tuition cap. Students continue to be saddled with debt throughout their education. Said Fabry: “In the end, we look at this budget as a lost opportunity for the government to help set British Columbia youth on the path to success.”

 

Students Look to Throne Speech for Housing Solutions

The Alliance of British Columbia Students will be watching the throne speech closely in hopes that students stretched budgets will see some relief. When asked, housing is regularly given as one of the primary struggles for students in British Columbia, and the ABCS would like to see the government take a proactive role to help students.

“Over the past few years we have been asking the government to enable Universities and College’s to build on-campus housing” said Sacha Fabry, ABCS Chairperson, “Putting students in on-campus housing is a no brainer. Right now, Universities are not allowed to take on debt to build housing, but we know that that is a self-financing debt, creating no cost to the Universities or the government, paid for by students housing fees. All we want is for the government to let universities build business plans and execute them.”

With over 10,000 students on housing waitlists in BC each year, and with most regional universities unable to even offer housing, the demand for on campus housing is likely more than enough to fill Rogers Arena. Building student housing on campus only requires the province’s blessing and encouragement, and could go a long way to easing the heavy demands for market rental housing and public transit to campus’s across BC, while enriching the University experience of those that attend.

Student housing fees, set below market rates, can fully finance the building of housing. UBC is in the process of completing payment on several housing buildings where the mortgages were fully funded through affordably priced student housing fees. With vacancy rates in some parts of BC below 1% and housing affordability a constant topic of conversation, the ABCS would like to see the province allow University’s to do their part, pulling students out of the housing market, and onto campus.

“It is evident that students would value housing, but more importantly, it would be good for everyone in the wider community” remarked Mr. Fabry.