NDP Reintroduces Tuition-Free ABE and ESL Courses at B.C.’s Post-Secondary Schools

Students and educators applaud the province’s decision to scrap adult education tuition
Joseph Keller, Staff Writer

On August 8 2017, the B.C. NDP government announced that they are making Adult Basic Education and English as a Second Language education free for British Columbians.(Flickr/Province of British Columbia)

B.C. Premier John Horgan announced on Aug. 8 that the province will restore funding to allow institutions like Kwantlen Polytechnic University to offer adult basic education (ABE) and English as a second language (ESL) courses without charge.

The decision reverses a 2015 move by the provincial government under former Premier Christy Clark to cut funding to institutions for ABE and ESL courses. As a result of those cuts, institutions across the country, including KPU, began charging up to $1,600 for a full course load for classes that had previously been free. Predictably, enrolment plummeted.

Information on how taxpayers will be affected by free ABE and ESL courses will be outlined in the September provincial budget update. Since the announcement was made, organisations like the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C. and the Alliance of BC Students have put out statements in support.

“I’m really excited that the government has been in power for just over three weeks and they’ve already been doing a lot of wins for students,” says Kwantlen Student Association Vice President External Affairs and Alliance of B.C. Students Chairperson Caitlin McCutchen.

Like other organizations, the Alliance of B.C. Students has lobbied the provincial government for the return of ABE and ESL funding. The return of the funding and the re-elimination of tuition fees for these courses were the focus of the ABCS’ 2015 Lobby Days campaign.

In their press release following the Premier’s announcement, the ABCS points out the importance of these courses for students belonging to marginalised groups that are striving for higher education. McCutchen herself says that she benefited from tuition-free courses before the 2015 decision was made.

“This is opening up doors for people that don’t have the $1,600 to pay for a Grade 12 class, and quite frankly, kindergarten to Grade 12 is a basic right,” says McCutchen.

The province’s decision was welcome news to KPU Department of Academic and Career Preparation Chair Geoff Dean who, in 2015, pushed for the university to maintain free tuition for continuous intake courses despite the government’s funding cut. After this latest change regarding ABE and ESL courses was made public, Dean sent a letter to South Fraser MLAs and local newspapers applauding the province’s decision.

“Thank goodness that our provincial government has decided to re-open the doors for the many people in our province who need a bit more education to be able to get a job, get off welfare, and contribute positively to our economy and our communities,” Dean wrote.

However, Dean also points out remaining issues at KPU with access to adult basic education. He argues that KPU needs to receive more funding for ABE programs so that it can offer enough student spaces to meet local demand.

“The arguments for how making ABE and ESL tuition-free will be good for our society by enabling more people to improve their education also apply to the importance of increasing the number of seats available in these programs.” says Dean. “Tuition-free doesn’t help if there aren’t spaces available for students.”

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