TRU students can do more than line up for burgers at the university's Back to School Barbecue next Friday; they can bend the ears of Opposition critics.
Michelle Mungall, advanced education critic, and Gwen O'Mahony, skills training critic, will join thousands of returning students on the Campus Commons between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. They want to gather input while promoting the NDP's plan to improve access to learning.
"I love coming to Kamloops, I love barbecues and I love talking to students," said Mungall, MLA for Nelson-Creston.
The talk, however, will be serious.
"Hearing from them is really important, and it's best to hear it at the beginning of the semester rather than at the end, when they're busy with exams."
Tuition has doubled in the last 10 years, with B.C. students paying the highest interest rate in the country on student loans with no direct grants that they can access, Mungall said. B.C. students average $27,000 in debt when they graduate from four-year programs, the largest debt load west of the Maritimes.
These factors, combined with B.C.'s high cost of living, have made post-secondary education less accessible.
Meanwhile, economists forecast that 80 per cent of new jobs over the next decade require some form of advanced education or skills training, she noted.
"We can't meet that labour market demand. Economists say this is the No. 1 concern for the economy: jobs without people and people without jobs."
The NDP promise to invest more in skills training and have proposed a $100-million non-repayable student grant program aimed at reducing inequality and improving the economy.
Liberal MLA Terry Lake, an erstwhile university instructor with daughters attending post-secondary schooling, is proud of his party's track record.
"I believe our tuition rates are the fourth lowest in the country," Lake said. "We've made it more affordable than ever to get a post-secondary education."
Tuition - which has risen at pace with the cost of living -represents only one cost factor, while the biggest cost is room and board, he noted. Freezing tuition, as was done in the 1990s under the NDP, imposed severe budget constraints on institutions, he added.
Tuition covers one-third of the cost, while taxpayers pick up two-thirds.
"When I talk to students, they say that's a fair and reasonable approach."
As for a non-repayable student grant program, "That would be nice, but that has to come from the taxpayers," he added.
Mungall and O'Mahony are touring campuses across the province.