Sunday, April 03, 2011

Liberal Program Opens Door to $100 million Olympic Bursary Proposal for BC Students

Whenever I have spoken about the need for a $200 million bursary program to bring the cost of higher education in BC down to below  the national average, I have always been aware of  the obvious Achilles heel of my proposal: no BC government in the forseeable future is going to have $200 million to spend on such a program. I have always known that what I was really advocating was a kind of Federal Provincial shared cost program.   Not the kind of 50-cent dollar offers that effectively promoted inflationary spending, skewed provincial priorities and infringed provincial autonomy, but some kind of program in which both levels of government would pitch in.
That is what is exciting about the Liberal "Passport to Education" announced recently in the federal election campaign.  In effect, it would supply the federal half of the funding (roughly $1000 per annum for eligible students) --making the idea of a provincial plan big enough that typical student debt loads would be brought down below $20,000 --where they belong.

I have argued that a bursary (voucher) scheme is more intelligent than either (1)a tuition freeze or (2)simply giving bigger grants to universities.  That is because unlike the tuition freeze it would not starve universities of revenue, and unlike the larger university grant it would in effect empower students , not just by directly reducing their debt, but by giving them demand-side funding to influence university spending priorities. Having half of the money in RESPs  and half in the form of  "Olympic Bursary" vouchers (applicable to either university tuition or outstanding student loans) would give students a great deal of flexibility. 

Of course, the province could just add more money to the Liberal scheme, which would be administratively simpler.

Or  the provincial government could bring back tuition freezes, but only for a temporary one-year period while the new programs are put in place. A one-time supplemental grant to universities to make up for the tution freeze could also be employed.

The main point is: IT CAN BE DONE.

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