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Geoff Johnson: Consequences scary for unpaid student loans

The fictional godfather, as portrayed by Marlon Brando, had Luca Brasi, a feared enforcer, to make sure loans were repaid with interest. No repayment and legs and arms were broken. Fortunately, the B.C.

The fictional godfather, as portrayed by Marlon Brando, had Luca Brasi, a feared enforcer, to make sure loans were repaid with interest. No repayment and legs and arms were broken.

Fortunately, the B.C. government does not need Brasi; it has the Insurance Corp. of B.C. No repayment on your student loan and you can walk or catch a series of buses to that first job you studied for so many years to achieve. Like a repeat traffic offender or one disqualified for driving under the influence, you will have your licence snatched back if you do not repay your student loan on time.

Whether or not having ICBC as the heavyhanded collector of education debts is a political winner remains to be seen. But even Luca Brasi was not asked to do that, and probably would have declined anyway.

As a demographic, students recently graduated from B.C. universities are apparently also thought to also qualify as the “low-hanging fruit” the premier spoke of when she recently identified easy and relatively defenceless financial-reclamation targets.

Students who have found it necessary to take out student loans at a rate that would embarrass the godfather are apparently also thought to be easy pickings by a government that, despite having recently forecast a budget surplus of $879 million, sees no reason to ease the load on local kids trying to get an education that will eventually push them into a higher tax bracket than workers who don’t hold university degrees.

The B.C. average undergraduate fee is around $6,000. That’s before books, accommodation or living expenses. That basic compulsory fee has risen from about $2,700 in 1990.

At $6,000 per year plus ancillary costs, a four- or five-year program could see a new graduate wondering how to deal with a $30,000 debt on a first-year salary plan, all the while disqualified from driving.

Somehow, kids in other countries that lack that promised budgetary surplus still manage to get an education while staying out from under the crushing debt accumulated before they have earned their first penny with a new degree.

The German government takes the long view on the benefits of advanced education and fully funds the education of its citizens — even foreigners.

Every Danish student receives the equivalent of $900 per month. This financial support does not have to be paid back even if students drop out, and the only major requirement for students to receive the full amount is that they do not live with their parents. Students receive the free funding for a maximum of six years, starting at the age of 18.

Finland charges no tuition fees, and offers a large number of university programs in English.

For students in European Union countries, public university programs in France charge only a small tuition fee of about $200 for most programs. Other more elite institutions have adopted a model that requires students to pay fees that are based on the income of their parents. Children of unemployed parents can study for free, while more privileged families have to pay more.

Sweden and Norway do not charge fees for international students. Slovenia and Brazil (where at least some courses are taught in English) charge only minimal fees.

Many Canadian universities will not recognize credits from universities in these countries, but the point is those countries see educating future generations as an important social and economic priority, a path to future prosperity.

All well and good for kids in those other jurisdictions. In B.C., our kids need to think long and hard before enrolling in courses and signing up for student loans.

The consequences of not being able to pay a student loan back to government on time could be even scarier than meeting a large man with a hat pulled down over his eyes, who says ominously: “I’ve been looking for you.”


Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.

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