Millennium agreement extends B.C. grants for

by Bruce Mason
Staff writer

A government plan to help cut debt among post-secondary students is good news on campus.

The partnership between Victoria and the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation (CMS) will extend grants to B.C. students in their third and fourth years of study.

Provincial and federal officials estimate that the student loan debt of about 13,000 post-secondary students in the province will be cut by an average of $7,200 under the new agreement.

"It is an outstanding initiative to put millions of dollars back in to the system and help students," says Ryan Marshall, president of UBC's Alma Mater Society.

"The decision that 95 per cent of the awards will be based on need is significant and welcome," says Carol Gibson, UBC's director of Awards and Financial Aid. "It reflects the fact that there has been a great deal of discussion between government and stakeholders, including financial aid administrators and students across the country."

The 10-year CMS program will provide $367 million for general awards in B.C. based on financial need. This allows foundation funding to be harmonized with B.C.'s student grant system.

Typically about 30 per cent of UBC students receive student loans of one form or another, Gibson says. Not all are B.C. student loans and the different individual arrangements provinces make with CMS will affect those students.

B.C. currently spends about $55.9 million a year in grants for eligible students in the first and second year.

Under the new deal, the province will provide an additional $11.1 million and combine it with $36 million from the Millennium Scholarship Fund for a total grant package of $103.7 million in 1999-2000.

B.C. students currently graduate from a four-year post-secondary program with an average debt load of $17,300. Provincial and federal officials say the new grant program will cut that figure to about $10,000. The grants average $3,600 for students who qualify for assistance.

The maximum award for students without dependents in B.C. is $8,840 for an eight-month study period. Sixty per cent of the award is made up of Canada student loans, with the remainder being either a B.C. grant or a CMS general award, or a combination of the two.

UBC has an extensive bursary program to further help students on financial aid and an enhanced student aid fund was created in 1991.

"Students themselves should receive credit for one of UBC's programs," says Gibson. "In a 1997/98 AMS referendum, it was agreed that a portion of tuition fees would be paid into a student aid fund."

Marshall points out that although the agreement brightens the future for many students, it will do nothing for those who began to sink into debt during education cuts in the mid-'90s.

"Too many are lost in limbo, facing excessive debt at prime plus five per cent," he says. "We will continue to lobby government to do something to help them."