Midterm review: VP External Erin Co

Erin Co ran on a platform prioritizing financial aid, student wellness and safety, and expanding transit. Seven months into her term, it appears she has been busy working to fulfill her promises. 

As VP external, Co's job involves lobbying the government on behalf of the student body. Affordability was one of her biggest priorities this year.

At the provincial level, while there have been no changes made yet, Co said she is advocating for a better funding formula in the recently announced post-secondary funding review.

Co said her goal is to shift the balance of UBC's operating budget away from tuition, and back toward provincial funding. 

Co hopes "tuition can be capped at least … for the near future with funding coming in from the government rather than from students." 

Co, along with student federal lobbying body Undergraduates of Canadian Research Universities (UCRU) have made progress on affordability, including lobbying the government to remove interest on federal student loans, expand the repayment assistance plan and remove the work-hour limit for international students.

During her campaign for VP external, Co said she wanted to "concretize" sexual assault policies. She is now working with the provincial government to update its sexual violence and misconduct policy. Revisions would include adding definitions and minimum standards and ensuring no retribution against survivors. 

"While we think the act is a great starting point, it's not an end goal whatsoever." 

Currently, Co is working with Possibility Seeds, a social change consultancy firm, on a report which will outline how universities could best support sexual violence prevention and make resources for support more equitable at post-secondaries across the province. 

Increasing government support for harm reduction on campus was another focus of Co's, but it appears to have hit a roadblock, as she has as yet been unable to set up a meeting with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

On transit, while the plan for the SkyTrain expansion to UBC was approved by Vancouver City Council, the capital funding to build the SkyTrain is not secured. Co hopes to secure funding by the end of her term by ensuring it "is still top of mind for" city officials. 

Co also told The Ubyssey she recently secured funding from UBC for a U-Pass summer opt-in program for students who are not taking classes, and currently would not be eligible for U-Pass. Co said the program will be “soft launched” next summer.

Co said her experience as associate VP campaigns and community engagement last year has pushed her to connect more with students as VP external.

Co has attempted to increase engagement by using the AMS social media to share the work she is doing. Her and her team have been using the AMS Instagram, discussing lobbying efforts and promoting how to vote in this year's municipal elections. 

Following lobbying efforts like the recent provincial lobby week, Co said she makes sure to follow up with ministers afterward and is "pushing them" to take action on what they agreed to. Lobby week is a time where student unions have the chance to directly connect with BC government representatives to pose student concerns.

"What we've been doing this year is that we're finding creative ways to go beyond lobby week. That means writing letters, writing submissions, also just making sure we actually go to their [ministers] mandate letter," she said.

"What we're doing right now is making sure that at every stage ... our voices are there, and we're being as loud and as annoying as possible."