Seamus Wolfe

Students show appetite for lower debt load

UVic group stages protest of growing level of student debt

Hot soup and a slice of bread on a grey, wet West Coast day goes a long way.

It’s even better when it’s free, such as students enjoyed at the University of Victoria on Tuesday.

“This is something we do typically once a semester… playing on the idea of a soup kitchen,” said Greg Atkinson, UVic Students’ Society director of external relations. “It’s the reality too. We have a food bank [at UVic] and it’s over utilized.”

UVSS dished out free soup for students to raise awareness about the level of student debt in B.C. Free Soup Day for Student Debt was about educating the students, renewing awareness on campus and getting names on petitions to lobby the government.

“B.C. is the only province in Canada without a needs-based grants program,” said Atkinson. “Grants go a long way to solving a debt crisis.”

He notes a BMO survey shows the average student has $35,000 debt upon graduation.

“It’s baffling that our government isn’t doing anything,” Atkinson said. “[The soup] is a good way to communicate with students.”

Kenya Rogers said the comfort zone she witnessed while ladling soup created conversations in line.

“We’re trying to raise awareness. This issue is something that affects everyone on campus one way or another, but it’s not in the forefront of our minds,” she said. “That’s really important, to come into a safe space and have more than just a bowl of soup.”

Needs-based grants were eliminated a decade ago, and since 2001, tuition fees have more than doubled while per-student funding has dropped by 14 per cent, according to the UVSS.

“A big discouragement is that you have to go into massive debt for education,” said science student Brandon Kuemper, after adding his name to the petition in support. “You have to go backwards to go forwards, and for most people that’s a tough thing to do.”

By the end of the first of three hours of the event there were 600 names on the petition, including student Nicole Edgar.

“I owe the government a lot of money,” she said. “And I know far too many students who graduate and have to pay for 10, 20 years. It seems like we don’t appreciate and value education in this country.”

The petitions will be delivered to the provincial government in early 2015.

“I think students are shocked when they hear this is the only province without a grant program,” said Seamus Wolfe, UVSS research and communications staff. “A lot of the time, it’s not news and they’re really excited that we’re doing something about it.”

 

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