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BC's new universities 'struggling': NDP candidate Clark

BURNABY – Student debt, graduate student funding, accessibility and quality of post-secondary education in British Columbia were the main issues discussed during a provincial election debate held May 6 at Simon Fraser University.

The debate, which took place at the SFU Burnaby campus, saw candidates from the Burnaby Lougheed riding including B.C. Liberal Harry Bloy, B.C. NDP Jaynie Clark and B.C. Green Helen Chang. The forum was organized by the SFU Community Coalition.

The debate featured seven questions by the coalition and ended with a number of questions posed by audience members. Topics included the role of B.C.’s four research intensive universities versus other universities and colleges, the differences in program funding, the accessibility and affordability of post-secondary education, transit issues and graduate student funding.

The candidates were questioned about the differing roles of the four older and more research intensive colleges of B.C. versus “new” universities – colleges that have been converted into universities.

Clark said that these new universities are finding it difficult to survive without funding or a mandate.

“The original universities have leadership roles. New universities are struggling to find their way," the NDP candidate said.

Bloy said the reason for the increasing number of post-secondary institutions in B.C. would allow students to attend classes closer to home and have more students to “stay in the area and benefit” after graduation.

“It takes a lot of money and time to get proper teaching staff and infrastructure,” said Chang.

Chang also said the B.C. Greens would provide green collared jobs and retrain people who could no longer maintain their jobs.

The three candidates were also questioned about cuts to graduate student programs resulting in depletion of general budgets for graduate student programs, lost of graduate teaching positions and the shrinkage of financial and administration support for graduate students.

Clark said the NDP will reinstate graduate student funding, allowing universities to have more input in where funding is directed.

Bloy said that it is already up to universities to make decisions regarding funding.

Chang showed concern for international graduate students who have chosen to study in B.C..

Audience questions focused on B.C.’s primary and secondary school systems as well as the candidate’s stance on the carbon tax.

Ashley Gaboury reports for The Tyee

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