Creating a 'better world' post-COVID: BC budget consultation recommends more graduate, international student support

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services released its unanimous report on the 2021 BC Budget Consultation, including a wide range of recommendations in the domain of post-secondary education, from creating an international student education strategy to extending the BC Graduate Scholarship.

The report, released on August 21, 2020, includes a total of 124 recommendations for the BC Legislature to consider for the upcoming provincial budget. Each year, the committee holds public consultations with British Columbians, including inputs made by the AMS and the GSS.

Alireza Kamyabi, VP external of the Graduate Student Society (GSS), said that the GSS supports the recommendations, as they are effective in addressing the GSS’s short and long-term concerns.

“COVID-19 has left students one of the hardest hit demographics in our province, which is why it is crucial that the provincial government continues to support institutions and their students,” said Kalith Nanayakkara, the AMS VP external, in the AMS’ video submission to the committee.

In a press release, the Chair of the provincial committee Bob D’Eith said the committee saw the highest level of participation in nearly ten years.

Kamyabi said this is “a telling piece of information,” as it shows that citizens in BC care about what the post COVID-19 world will look like.

“We are also going through a movement right now, where people are fighting for more justice,” Nanayakkara added, “These different issues – whether social or health, political or economic – all really motivate people to speak up.”

Operational funding recommendations

The consultation report acknowledged the financial challenges experienced by post-secondary institutions during the pandemic, such as revenue shortfalls due to a decline in enrolment.

One of the committee’s recommendations was to allow the use of accumulated surpluses, to give post-secondary institutions short-term flexibility.

The AMS, as well as the Alliance of BC Students, recommended that post-secondary institutions be permitted to run budgetary deficits, to ensure minimized budget cuts to campus and student services. Nanayakkara said the AMS strongly supports the recommendations surrounding operational funding.

According to Stats Canada, 80 per cent of post-secondary students are worried about their finances as a result of the pandemic. The AMS mentioned rent, tuition, and learning materials as some economic barriers in its submission, also asking for an increase of direct financial support to post-secondary institutions, to stabilize tuition. .

Financial concerns of graduate, international students

One of the recommendations presented by the committee was the extension of the three-year BC Graduate Scholarship, initially introduced in 2018, as well as expansion of its eligibility to include graduate students in non-STEM disciplines as well. This had been strongly advocated for by the GSS, and Kamyabi said the scholarship had been a “massive success” until now.

Another recommendation was consideration of indirect costs of education, such as childcare, which Kamyabi was glad to see because of the many graduate students with younger dependents.

According to Stats Canada, graduate student enrolment in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta has increased on average by 50 per cent from 2005 to 2015, but only by 15 per cent in BC – which Kamyabi attributed to the lack of support by the provincial government.

In his presentation to the committee, Kamyabi recommended expanding the eligibility of the BC Access Grant to include graduate students, considering that the province offers no needs-based grants for graduate education in BC currently.

The committee’s report also mentioned that the potential decline in international student enrolment in the next few years, due to unpredictable tuition increases and COVID-19, could leave post-secondary institutions financially vulnerable.

The AMS report stated, “While domestic tuition is capped at 2 per cent annually, international student fees are then abused to sometimes be increased by 20 per cent.”

One of the recommendations made by the committee was to create a provincial international student education strategy, which would examine the business model and the integration of international students in the context of goals of post-secondary education.

Overall, Nanayakkara said that any of the committee’s recommendations would “definitely support not only UBC students, but post-secondary students across the whole province.”

“I think the post-COVID world has the potential to look a whole lot different,” said Kamyabi, “If we can make that different world also a better world, that’s a great step forward.”