AMS focuses on affordability in recommendations for 2018 provincial budget plan

Earlier this month, the AMS presented its recommendations for the provincial government’s 2018 budget plan to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. This was part of an annual consultation process hosted by the BC government.

AMS VP External Sally Lin believed that the presentation was “really well received” and that “reactions were positive.”

This year’s five AMS recommendations stem from the four student issues in which the society believes to be the most significant — student loan interest rate, financial problems faced by students with low or middle income backgrounds, the lack of an attractive graduate student scholarship and the need for better implementation of programs addressing sexual assault and misconduct on campus.

The first two recommendations aim towards alleviating student loan interest. This would mitigate the “fundamentally inequitable situation” where “students who can afford to pay for their tuition up front end up paying considerably less than their peers who have to take out loans to pay for the same education.”

The following recommendation looks towards implementing up front needs-based grants for low and middle income students who are unable to afford the upfront cost of education.

The fourth recommendation entails the creation of a competitive graduate student scholarship, which would help to “significantly increase the attractiveness of the province as a destination for graduate students.”

The final recommendation requests dedicated funding towards the expansion of programs that address sexual violence and misconduct in terms of “prevention, education and response on campus.” This would assist in effectively implementing the new sexual assault and misconduct policy enforced by the university.

With regards to how the AMS formulated these recommendations, Lin explained the needs of UBC students were identified through empirical data.

“When students fill out the [Academic Experience Survey], it helps inform us of what their challenges are and [we] also take that data and share it with the province to inform [them] on the scale of needs that our students face,” she said.

For instance, the survey found that “one in five students reported that they might need to abandon their studies due to financial reasons.” This statistic was then used to help develop the recommendations that address student loan interests and financial problems, according to Lin.

Other sources of information were also utilized, such as a student issues survey conducted by last year’s VP External, which “was done in partnership with nine other student societies across the province.”

Darran Fernandez, the associate registrar and director of the student support and advising unit in enrolment services, believes that the AMS’s recommendations do accurately portray student financial issues.

“What’s included within the document is a truth,” said Fernandez. “It does accurately share some of the things that are quite impactful both in the short and long term for some of our students here at UBC.”

However, Fernandez believes that the recommendations are not without flaws, since they have “a very heavy domestic focus” and are not “comprehensive in any nature.”

“The AMS hasn’t addressed all pieces of awards and scholarships and [the] pieces which we consider also to be a part of financial aid,” said Fernandez.

As for the effectiveness of the consultations themselves, the government has shown signs of taking student recommendations into account.

“Last year, the AMS was able to celebrate a really huge success,” said Lin. “The BC government ended up announcing that the BC student loans interest rate would be reduced from … prime rate plus two point five per cent to just prime rate.

“We saw it as a step towards the complete elimination of student loan interest rates, so that was really wonderful for us.”

While, it is currently unclear whether the AMS’s recommendations would be adopted by the 2018 provincial budget, more concrete details are expected to arrive soon with the release of the committee’s report by November 15, 2017.