Jobs Blueprint a bust, students lose out

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Source: http://www.fpse.ca/news/presidents-comment/jobs-blueprint-bust-students-lose-out

by Dr. George A. Davison
President, Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C.

Two years after the launch of the “Skills for Jobs Blueprint,” B.C.’s post-secondary educators don’t see much to celebrate.

The Blueprint is about feeding Premier Clark’s fantasy fund. It was designed to support the 100,000 jobs we were told would manifest out of LNG. The jobs aren’t there. The LNG isn’t there. The dream was a bust, and so is the Blueprint.

The Blueprint restricts funding to only specialized, targeted post-secondary programs, which threatens to undermine economic diversity and student success. Since 2014, the B.C. government has been moving to limit post-secondary funding to what they have determined are their top priorities. While those programs deserve support, what about those who want to study in other areas?

Post-secondary education is about more than the jobs the government has chosen for students. Narrowly funding programs that only match what the government believes are up and coming jobs will lead to failure in the long-term. Not only is it completely unfair for the students, limiting choice – forcing public colleges and universities to cut back in other areas – reduces flexibility and doesn’t foster a truly diversified economy.

The list of B.C. Liberal failures in post-secondary education has now extended to an entire generation of students and would fill this page. To summarize, here is the list of the Top 10 BC Liberal failures in post-secondary education:

1. A Blueprint for education designed for industry, not students.

2. “Re-engineering” post-secondary education while ignoring their own “Campus 2020” report.

3. Declining per-student operating grants for BC’s public institutions – by 27 per cent since 2001, when adjusted for inflation.

4. Annual increases in fees for students – and an almost 400 per cent increase in tuition fees since 2001.

5. The elimination of tuition-free Adult Basic Education at public post-secondary institutions.

6. The elimination of tuition-free English as an Additional Language programs at public post-secondary institutions.

7. An Adult Upgrading Grant designed to exclude the vast majority of British Columbians.

8. A 50 per cent increase in the number of senior administrators in public post-secondary institutions, and a 200 per cent increase in executive compensation since 2002.

9. Failing to invest to improve Aboriginal representation in most areas of study (including high school graduation rates).

10. Program or section cuts at community colleges across BC, over 100 individual course sections at one college alone.

The BC 2024 Labour Market Outlook predicts that 78 per cent of the projected one million job openings will require post-secondary education – yet the money isn’t there to enable students to access the education they need to fill those jobs. The vast majority of the projected jobs will require problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and the ability to communicate effectively. Yet the programs that teach these skills are the ones that institutions are cutting to save money.

B.C.’s colleges and universities are being squeezed, and BC’s students are paying the price.

Around the province, community colleges are cutting back on university transfer programs, while adult basic education and English language training now come with hefty price tags for all but a few who qualify for the Adult Upgrading Grant. One wonders, of the one million projected jobs, how the 78 per cent requiring post-secondary education will be filled when students who need to upgrade courses, or complete a Dogwood diploma, or take second-year English, can’t access the education they need to pursue their career.

We need trades training in B.C. But we also need a full and diverse post-secondary education system that trains people for the jobs of today, and prepares them for the challenges of tomorrow and beyond.

Note: this piece also appeared in the Vancouver Sun, p. A15, on April 29, 2016

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A quick fix by AVED re student AUG/tax issue

The good news: In this instance, the Ministry of Advanced Education (AVED) has been responsive and quick to fix one problem. However, the question remains: How many fixes will it take before AVED responds to the fact that the combined tuition fees and grant application process has been a mistake for ABE students? Perhaps AVED is getting closer to understanding who ABE students really are: not the students they originally thought, but rather low-income adult students who need to be screened in rather than screened out (the income threshold of $23,600 is too low to be effective) – literacy level students, students with disabilities, and other second chance adult learners and workers who are trying to get a basic education so they can improve their chances in life.

The bad news:
1) The fix (see FPSE memo below) just adds another layer to the paper trail around getting low-income students funded.
2) The tax still represents a reduction in benefit to students.

Outstanding:
Clarity and some official communication from Revenue Canada on whether ABE students can claim their tuition fees against their taxes.

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Memo, FPSE-BC, April 13, 2016:

Hi all,

We’ve got some updated information since our news release last week regarding the Adult Upgrading Grant being counted as taxable income.

What we’re told is that the Ministry is amending the AUG income policy in anticipation of potential income tax and future AUG eligibility implications. Institutions may deduct the amount of a student’s previous year’s AUG award from their line 150 income solely for the purposes of determining current year AUG eligibility. The student would be required to provide proof of their previous year’s AUG award in the form of their T4A. This policy will be effective immediately and retroactive to the beginning of 2016/17.

Additionally, we’ve been told (second-hand source) that CRA will allow ABE students to claim the Education Amount and tuition credits on their income taxes. A couple of income tax professionals who happen to have a daughter in ABE at VCC contacted CRA directly to ask the question and were told the credits are allowable. We recommend sharing this information with your members and getting the info to students (though they should probably contact CRA to confirm).

Questions remaining:
Does the AUG being taxable affect other income-threshold benefits? What about the child tax credit? MSP premiums? Other?

If you hear anything more about these issues, please keep us in the loop.

In solidarity,

George

Dr. George A. Davison
President, Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C.
President, National Union of the Canadian Association of University Teachers

400-550 West 6th Ave.,
Vancouver, B.C. V5Z 1A1
Office phone: 604-873-8988

Warning: Tax Crunch for BC’s ABE Students

With tax season upon us, we are starting to see that ABE students are being charged taxes on the Adult Upgrading Grant (AUG) funds received in 2015. For example, in one case, a student is charged $260 tax on roughly $3,800 received through the AUG.

Even though BC’s ABE students are now being charged tuition fees as high or higher than university level courses, unlike their university counterparts, ABE students can’t claim tuition against their income. In the case of Adult Basic Education students in full-time studies, they are now responsible for tuition of almost $5,000/year for basic reading, writing,  math, computer skills courses and high school level subjects.

Students have started bringing in tax documents downloaded from their student services websites that detailed their grant funding as income. This was new news. Now with more evidence that indicates that the grant is taxable, there are ramifications for low-income ABE students.

  1. Students are being assessed taxes on the AUG after the fact. A deferred charge (tax) raises the barrier to access and deters students from re-applying.
  2. Students have not been communicated to plainly that a tax bill will follow the AUG.
  3. Above all, the tax reduces the overall benefit to low-income students.
  4. Adding grant funding to income has the potential to disqualify students for the AUG. For example, a student making below but close to the low-income threshold, will suddenly be pushed above it. A full-time ABE student will add well over $5,000 (grant funding for tuition, UPass and college fees) to their annual income.

BC Federation of Post-Secondary Educators summed the situation up in their April 7, 2016 press release:

When this government eliminated free tuition for students in developmental programs, the Minister of Advanced Education insisted that low-income students would not be hurt,” says George Davison, FPSE President. “But this government’s so-called fix for adult basic education is no fix at all.”