Literacy funding inadequate in addressing basic education needs

VANCOUVER, Nov. 29, 2016 /CNW/ - A recent BC Liberal announcement allocating funding for community adult literacy programs shortchanges the 25,000 Adult Basic Education students at the province's public post-secondary institutions, say the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators and BC Federation of Students.

Two years ago, the provincial government eliminated funding for adult basic education programming at post-secondary institutions in BC and removed the tuition-free ABE mandate. Public post-secondary institutions can now charge up to $3,200 per year in tuition fees for ABE courses. This funding cut totaled $6.9 million; a further $9 million was cut from adult basic education programming in the K-12 system.

"Adults depend on ABE programs to improve their basic literacy or numeracy," said Simka Marshall, Chairperson of the British Columbia Federation of Students. "Government needs to put funding into programs that already exist."

"Well-meaning volunteers can't replace the decades of experience and training of professional educators," said George Davison, President of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators. "Students aren't getting the best opportunities because qualified teachers are on the sidelines."

Since the funding cuts were implemented, ABE program enrolments have dropped at institutions across the province. Shifting funding for basic programs to community organizations does nothing to assist students wanting to enrol in public institutions to develop their skills and ultimately to pursue career programs.

"Reversing the tuition-fee free mandate on ABE was a nonsensical policy change," said Marshall. "Fully funded ABE would give the support that BC families need to enter the workforce or continue to a post-secondary program."

"Restoring the $16 million cut from ABE would provide a level-playing field for all British Columbians seeking literacy and numeracy programs," said Davison. "Why limit access to free training to 9,000 adult learners when there are nearly three times needing the same education?"

The British Columbia Federation of Students represents over 150,000 post-secondary students from 14 universities and colleges in every region in BC.

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators represents 10,000 faculty and staff at BC's colleges, universities and institutes.


Adult Basic Education (ABE) includes foundational education in basic literacy and numeracy up to and including high school completion. Currently, ABE is offered through school board adult education programs and through BC's system of 25 public post-secondary institutions. 

ABE has been tuition-free in BC since the BC Liberal government of Gordon Campbell eliminated ABE tuition fees in 2007 [1].

"We are helping people upgrade their education so they can take advantage of our growing economy and enjoy rewarding careers," said former BC Liberal Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell [1]. "We're acting on the Campus 2020 report by offering free tuition for adult basic education, whether students have graduated from high school or not. We're also going beyond that by helping more adult learners pay for books, transportation and child care."

On December 4, 2014, the provincial government announced a $6.9 million cut to adult basic education programming in BC and removed the tuition-free ABE mandate. As of January 1, 2015, public post-secondary institutions were allowed to charge up to $1,600 per term in tuition fees for full-time ABE courses [2].

As of May 1, 2015, the provincial government cut funding to school districts for tuition-free upgrading courses for "graduated adults."

Grants Don't Cut It

The BC government claims that low-income adults can apply for a grant to cover the new tuition fees, but their definition of "low-income" will shut out thousands. The Adult Upgrading Grant (AUG) is only available to those making $23,647 or less, so if you make $11.37 per hour or more, you are not low-income in the eyes of the BC government [3].

ABE helps those most in need qualify for higher education and employment

Who are ABE students?

  • 58% are women
  • 20% are parents
  • 18% are Aboriginal
  • 79% have a high school diploma
  • 77% are taking ABE to prepare for future studies; 10% just want to complete high school

More than half (56%) of ABE grads surveyed had gone on to further education, and of those not currently enrolled in additional studies at the time of the survey, 29% had pursued other education since finishing ABE. Together these numbers mean that 70% of ABE students go on to further studies (this proportion is consistent across the 2011, 2012 and 2013 studies).

55% of ABE students supported themselves by working while studying; 35% relied on support from family and friends; 19% relied on personal savings to support themselves; only 11% relied on ABESAP (student aid for ABE students) for support [4].

[1] BC Government Media Release (September 7th, 2007): ALL ADULT BASIC EDUCATION TO BE TUITION-FREE IN B.C.   
[2] BC Government Media Release (December 4th, 2014): Adult upgrading courses supported by grants for low-income learners.    
[3] StudentAidBC: Adult Upgrading Grant Application Form   
[4] BC Government Report: 2013 Developmental Student Outcomes Survey 

SOURCE Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC

For further information: Simka Marshall, BCFS Chairperson, 604-733-1880; Leah Squance, FPSE Communications, 604-873-8988


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Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC

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