Volume 91, Issue 37

Tuesday, November 4, 1997

till you drop


Reducing the debt load

By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
Gazette Staff

With budget time nearing for the federal government, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations has decided to be part of a cooperative effort aimed at student debt reduction.

In a meeting with the federal government's finance committee yesterday, CASA, along with six other national post-secondary stakeholder groups, presented a package of student debt reform.

Hoops Harrison, national director for CASA, said the introductory presentation attempted to bring up issues which include making interest on student loans tax deductible as well as the need for both an upfront and deferred grant.

The upfront grant will be used with first and second-year students in order to increase accessibility, whereas the deferred grant would be used to target debt reduction, he said.

CASA plans to launch their own specific initiatives in mid-November to banks, provinces and the government based on talks with Human Resources Development Canada at a conference in Halifax a few weeks ago.

There are three stages to a submitting a final proposal – having the government commit to the problem, outlining what you want and getting the government to allocate finances, Harrison said. CASA is now starting to get money allocated.

University Students' Council President and Ontario regional director for CASA, Ryan Parks, said CASA plans to campaign against student debt by lobbying the government starting on Nov. 12. A more directed effort towards educating the public will follow in February.

"Hopefully these strategies will lessen the burden of debt when graduates begin working and wanting to become a contributing member of society," he said.

Brad Lavinge, national chair for the Canadian Federation of Students, said their organization launched debt reduction policies long before the popularity of the subject began to rise.

In a national general meeting in May, Lavinge said CFS attempted to shift the discussion from debt repayment to debt reduction, adding CASA has seldom spoken about the reduction issue.

"CFS are riding the media wave of attention on this issue. It was really the students who pushed for this," Harrison said. People are paying more attention to the issue which was out long before CFS introduced their "Free Tuition" document, he added.

Harrison said he also helped influence the most recent throne speech which had never used the words: "Canada Student Loan Program" in its content before this year.

CFS is also working on a national plan with initiatives including the addition of a grant portion to the Ontario Student Assistant Plan, as well as loan remission, tuition-fee freezes and a youth job strategy.

The issue of zero tuiton, as proposed by CFS, is a long-term accessibility goal of the federation which sees tuition as a user fee that should not be paid for by the students. "We recognize that access is crucial regardless of how much money you make," Lavinge said.

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Copyright The Gazette 1997