After the announcement of the elimination of interest on student loans, Leader of the BC Liberals Andrew Wilkinson has made some outlandish statements about student loan debt, and students themselves, which illustrate his disregard for students in the province.

In a radio interview he spoke about his rationale for being opposed to eliminating interest on student loans. That interview can be heard in a tweet here. After some significant public backlash on the subject, Mr. Wilkinson has doubled-down with his comments in media interviews. (And this isn’t even getting into the “fun” and “wacky” time renters have.)

While reviewing his comments, one thing must be made very clear: Mr. Wilkinson’s comments completely ignore the reasons that student debt in BC is so high to begin with. When the BC Liberals were in government, tuition fees more than doubled; funding for the sector was slashed; and the up-front BC Student Grant Program was eliminated. Student debt is at an all-time high because of the decisions made by his Party over the course of 16 years.

Despite previously holding the position of the Minister of Advanced Education, Mr. Wilkinson continues to misrepresent the student loan program and borrowers to the public. This is deeply troubling, and we think it is important to correct Mr. Wilkinson and his public comments.

Comment 1: Any loan that carries no interest encourages people to go into a lot of debt.

It is surprising to hear Mr. Wilkinson make such statements about zero interest encouraging extra debt. People understand that overall, debt is bad. But due to the ballooning costs of college and university, combined with limited non-repayable financial aid options, student loans are often the only avenue for students and their families to finance their education.

Interest charged on student loans is a penalty on those who are from low- and middle-income backgrounds, who can’t afford to pay for post-secondary education up-front. In today’s job market over 75% of new jobs being created require some form of post-secondary education and training – it isn’t an option, it’s a requirement.

Interestingly enough, when Mr. Wilkinson’s party was government just a couple of years ago, they introduced an interest-free government loan for first-time home buyers. The stark contrast between that initiative and this statement is jarring.

Comment 2: Why wouldn’t you just go and borrow as much as you possibly can? And then why would you ever pay it back?

No one thinks “I wonder just how much debt I can manage to get into while putting myself through school?” – instead, students and their families are often very concerned with the rising costs of tuition fees and other education-related costs (like textbooks) and are cautious about taking on student loans.

The student loan program is a needs-based program. There are maximum yearly and lifetime amounts that a person can borrow from the student loan program. These limits take into account the needs of each individual – whether you are a parent or a single parent, a person with a disability, your family’s income, and more.

The student loan program is not a free-for-all lending machine, but rather a mechanism to help students and their families access the education they need in order to fully participate in the workforce and in our society.

Comment 3: If you’re given $80,000 and there’s no interest, why would you ever pay it back? You just wait for it to fade away with inflation, thirty years later you might pay it back.

First of all, it is not common for someone to accrue $80,000 in student loan debt. But even still, these borrowers typically have exceptional circumstances that lead to them being afforded this amount.

As the previous Minister for Advanced Education, Mr. Wilkinson knows full-well that your loan does not just “fade away with inflation”. A person cannot simply not pay back their loan to the government – it’s just not possible. Even if someone were to claim bankruptcy, in most circumstances the student loan would not be forgiven even then.

It’s not clear why Mr. Wilkinson is focusing so pointedly and negatively at issues facing students and young people. His comments about people borrowing as much as they can and not paying it back are out of step not only with reality but also with the rules and processes of the student loan program.

Eliminating Interest on Student Loans is Popular Amongst Students, the Public, and Politicians

Students across British Columbia, through the BC Federation of Students, have been calling for the elimination of interest on student loans for the better part of a decade. Our response to the BC Budget announcement can be found here. (And for a more fun one, here is our video celebrating this victory for students!)

A poll conducted by Viewpoints Research for the BC Federation of Students in Spring 2018 demonstrated that 68% of British Columbians were in favour of the elimination of interest on BC student loans in Budget 2019.

Even several Liberal MLAs are on record supporting the elimination of interest on student loans. These MLAs include Michelle Stillwell, Laurie Throness, Teresa Wat, Todd Stone, and others. They have spoken not only to students in meetings, but publicly, on record in the Legislature, in support of this initiative.

The elimination of interest on BC student loans eases the burden of student debt for those who are struggling to repay. It puts money back in their pockets to allow them to more fully participate in our economy. Two-thirds of British Columbians agree with this move – it’s the right move for British Columbians and it’s the right move for BC.