College students protesting 'debt sentence'
Education shouldn't be a debt sentence.
That's the theme of a campaign by student unions across the province, and North Island College (NIC) students learned more about the campaign this week.
The North Island Students' Union (NISU) held a Debt Sentence Soup Kitchen on Wednesday at NIC's Courtenay Campus.
"Students are taking on crushing debt loads to get their education in B.C. currently, and they're looking to the provincial government to help ease the weight," said NISU organizer James Bowen.
This was the third annual Student Debt Soup Kitchen, and it was part the the Canadian Federation of Students — B.C.'s Debt Sentence campaign.
NISU representatives gave away free soup and offered students the opportunity to further engage in the campaign.
Debt Sentence is a provincewide campaign to the provincial government asking for four things — reduced tuition fees, increased funding for North Island College, the elimination of interest rates on student loans, and the creation of a grant program for students, explained Bowen.
During the Debt Sentence Soup Kitchen awareness-raising event — which was also held Tuesday at NIC's Campbell River Campus — students could sign a petition, and they were encouraged to write to their MLAs.
"Tuition fees in B.C. in the last 10 years have skyrocketed," said Bowen. "We have the lowest non-repayable student aid in Canada in B.C. and the lowest minimum wage, and you put it all together, and students are struggling. Events like this let other students know (student unions) are working on these issues, and they're working on campaigns like this. It lets them know their voices matter."
Bowen feels the students' voices are being heard.
"These things weren't part of the conversation politically two years ago," he said. "In the NDP leadership race and the Liberal leadership race, they started talking about this because we were campaigning. Interest relief on student loans is definitely part of the conversation now; a grant program is part of the conversation now. I'm very hopeful that around election time, the candidates will start making serious promises around this."
To learn more about the Debt Sentence campaign, visit www.debtsentence.ca.