AMS lobbies BC government on affordable education and sexual violence policies

Last week, representatives from the AMS went to Victoria for their annual provincial lobby trip where they met with government and opposition to discuss student issues.

This trip was the second year in a row that the AMS collaborated with the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) and British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS) to lobby the BC government. The student groups advocated for three main asks in Victoria: student grants, international student fees and sexual violence policies.

“The first [ask] was around getting a robust, up-front, needs-based grant system in BC because BC is the only province that doesn't have an up-front grant system or forgivable loans,” said AMS VP External Cristina Ilnitchi, speaking to The Ubyssey about the trip.

On their lobby trip to Victoria last year, the AMS, SFSS and BCFS also advocated for educational affordability. The provincial government has since eliminated interest on the provincial portion of student loans.

Ilnitchi said up-front grants can help students who might otherwise not have the means to attend university.

“While there are some back-end grants at the end of a student’s degree or at the end of a student’s academic year, those aren't necessarily going to support a student who needs money up front at the beginning of their degree and at the beginning of the year when the costs are higher.”

“Student financial aid is critically important to be able to support low- to middle-income students, to be able to get them through their post-secondary education,” she said, adding that the student groups proposed a reallocation of resources to accommodate this up-front grant system.

Related to educational affordability, Ilnitchi said the student groups also advocated for a cap on international student tuition fee increases because international students should be able to predict the costs of their post-secondary education. They have not prescribed a number for that cap, however.

Universities and colleges in Canada independently determine their tuition fees, but the BC government passed a Tuition Limit Policy in 2005 that put a two per cent annual cap on domestic fee increases.

A similar tuition limit policy does not exist for international student fee increases.

International student fees at UBC have risen by about 12 per cent in the last academic year alone, with international students now paying seven times what domestic students pay for a single credit.

The final ask of the student groups on their lobby trip was around sexual violence policies on campuses and the implementation of these policies. Specifically, they want to see governments play a consistent, active role in reviewing these policies.

“When we say ‘an active role,’ we mean … evaluating the policies and keeping stock of best practices, what the gaps and similarities between the policies are and being able to report back on that,” she said.

Ilnitchi also said the student groups lobbied the government to provide resources for institutions that are unable to support sexual assault survivors.

“... once a review of policy is done, the government should undergo an assessment of financial need for institutions that have fewer resources and don’t have the ability to support survivors to the extent that they would like because of financial constraints,” she said.

The student groups also lobbied for a “strong external mechanism” to universities that oversee the implementation of these sexual violence policies, ultimately providing an outlet for students, faculty and staff to go to if sexual assault support services on campuses are not meeting their demands.

Looking back and looking forward

Ilnitchi said the student groups based their priorities on the research that the AMS, SFSS and BCFS have done, what their collective goals are for this coming year and what the government is already working on.

“Our considerations were: What advocacy is outstanding? What are ways and how does this lobby trip need to change compared to last year?” she said.

Ilnitchi added there are a lot of topics on which they could not lobby in their single trip, including support for Indigenous students and access to Open Educational Resources.

“We've been having conversations with the Indigenous committee about different advocacy that we could be doing with the provincial government, with the federal government and local governments, and we haven't yet landed on for certain what that’s going to be, but these conversations are happening and it's going to be a topic that's brought up in the second trip,” Ilnitchi said, referring to a lobby trip the AMS will be taking in the coming semester.

Brynn Joyce, secretary-treasurer of the BCFS, said the trip was a good opportunity to improve cooperation between various student advocacy groups and the province.

“This was a really, really positive week and I think that we have the opportunity to really strengthen our relationships with Simon Fraser and UBC and also to have great conversations with government,” said Joyce.

Ilnitchi added that the AMS is excited to see the changes the collaboration brings.

“We've had a lot of wind over the last year to support students and we want to continue working hard to ensure that these issues are addressed,” she said.