Come together, right now, over student aid
By Adrian Leung
By putting their differences aside and coming together on an important issue the post-secondary community has been able to propose a new set of student aid measures that could help financially-strapped students.
With the possibility of a federal election in the near future, a coalition of seven post-secondary education groups representing universities, community colleges, students, professors and student aid administrators has released a comprehensive package on student aid which it hopes will grab the attention of the federal government.
Matthew Hough, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, explained the hope is that the Liberal government will understand the pressing issue of student aid and incorporate the proposals into their next budget.
"In the minds of everyone involved, student debt is a real issue and we have created a collective coherent proposal," Hough said. "It enhances the present system by allowing flexibility and accessibility for students."
Yesterday's unveiling of the recommended reforms came before Finance Minister Paul Martin delivers what is expected to serve as a pre-election budget, Hough said. He added the new measures address the critical problems of student debt and attempt to alleviate the financial burden for students and their parents.
The coalition, which includes such groups as the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Association of University Teachers, believes the proposals will assist the different needs of students, explained Robert Best, director of government relations and public affairs for AUCA.
The measures unveiled include new student aid grants for high-need individuals, repayment assistance to help former students meet their debt obligations, a work-study program which will enable students to earn money while in school and tax measures to help Canadians save for their children's education.
By providing assistance to students prior to, during and after their studies. "The proposal does not only deal with one time frame in the student's life," said Sue Weisner a spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. "Accessibility, high needs and repayment issues are all addressed."
The proposals made by the coalition were achieved because members of the post-secondary community, who in the past have often disagreed with each other, decided to co-operate on the important issue of student accessibility and debt.
"In the past, we were perceived as very divided and incapable, but recently, we were able to focus on what we could agree on and speak with one voice," Best said. "It is very difficult to get the attention of the government and the public. Now they can see that the community is able to get together."
Hough agreed. "I was skeptical at first because of the differences between [CASA] and CFS and between the AUCC and the CAUT. There was bad blood between the groups, but I am very excited that we could put our differences aside."
The new proposals would require the federal government to make not only a commitment to the present Canada Student Loans Program, but to make a substantial investment in the new recommended measures during a time of fiscal restraint and deficit reduction. However, members from the coalition emphasize it would be an investment in the future of students and post-secondary education.
"This will definitely cost the government money, but the proposals should be implemented over time and not necessarily all at once," Best said. "Student assistance is a multidimensional issue and tinkering [with the system] is not enough. It's an investment in the long-run."