Asked about his comments that students “may get carried away” with interest-free loans, Andrew Wilkinson doubles down

VICTORIA – Yesterday, BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s reasons for opposing interest-free student loans sparked hundreds of online reactions calling him “out of touch” and in need of a “reality check”.

Today, reporters asked Andrew Wilkinson if he believed students were responsible enough to pay back interest-free student loans. Without acknowledging the financial challenges facing students trying to afford an education, Wilkinson doubled down, saying students “may get a little carried away” and that they “need some counselling about debt”.

Here’s the full exchange:

Reporter: Before we go, quickly can I ask you about – the NDP is sending out this audio of comments you made about student loans. Do you believe with interest-free student loans that students are responsible enough to pay back those loans?

Wilkinson: I paid tens of thousands of student loans myself to get through medical school. Student loans are a very important part of our educational system. The concern with the NDP taking he interest off them completely is that students in their early years may get a little carried away with how much they’re borrowing. We want to make sure students have access to financing. But, there’s got to be a right way to go about it, and that’s probably not the right way to go about it.

Reporter: How can you get carried away if there’s set numbers to how much you pay for tuition?

Wilkinson: Well, my own experience is running into students who had $80,000 in student debt who haven’t completed their degree. Students need some counselling about debt they’re taking on.

Reporter: But that was with the interest being in place. They’re taking $80,000 with interest. So how would forgiving the interest…?

Wilkinson: Well if there’s no interest whatsoever, then students are likely to borrow more. And they need some advice and some information about credit counseling before they get into big debts.

Meanwhile, multiple BC Liberal MLAs have spoken in favour of the move because it will genuinely help students who need financial assistance to get an education:

The elimination of the provincial component of the student loan interest, on accruing interest and new student loans, is again a positive step. I have a son who’s in second-year engineering at UBC Okanagan. He’s managed so far, through both technical college and heading into engineering at UBCO, to avoid having to take out a student loan. All the credit to him for being able to do that. It’s not quite the same situation for his partner, who is in nursing at UBC Okanagan. I know this step will significantly help her and many other students who find themselves in that situation, where they do need to take the loans out in order to get their education. -Steve Thomson, Feb 26

I want to say this also. As the Advanced Education critic, with my colleague from Surrey South — we noticed very little in there. I will acknowledge that phasing out interest for student loans, I think, generally was well received. As you know, I taught university for many years. I’m sure if I’d walked into the class and said, “You don’t have to pay interest on your student loans,” they’d have loved me as their instructor. I will acknowledge that, but not much else. -Simon Gibson, Feb 26

First of all, I’d like to take up the challenge of the previous speaker and say that, yeah, there are some things in this budget that I do support. I do support the elimination of the student loan interest. -Jane Thornthwaite, Feb 21

Now, there are things in the budget that I like. I want to mention them quickly, because there are not many. I like the interest relief on student loans, as long as it doesn’t give students an incentive to get higher student loans. I know what it’s like to pay interest on student loans. -Laurie Throness, Feb 21

Increased child care spaces and eliminating interest on B.C. student loans are worthy investments. They’re good ideas. -Michelle Stilwell, Feb 25

On a different note, I do welcome the $50-a-month increase to disability and welfare rates, the immediate elimination of interest charges on student loans and the government’s investment in child and youth mental support. -Teresa Wat, Feb 27