Students and feds meet on loans issue
By Sara Marett
Student politicians across Canada are gearing up this weekend to push their plans to the federal government concerning a new national student loan program.
Members of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations are meeting with federal government members on Monday at Dalhousie University in Halifax to discuss policy on financial aid reform. Western's University Students' Council President Ryan Parks and VP-student issues Sam Castiglione will be attending the conference.
Hoops Harrison, national director for CASA, said there will be representatives from all member schools as well as observatory representatives from the University of British Columbia and Queen's University, schools which are not members of CASA.
He explained the group will meet with two representatives from the Human Resources Development of Canada. "They will be presenting 13 different types of loan repayment programs for us to analyze," Harrison said.
The conference will address such issues as the recently announced Millenium Scholarship Fund, special opportunity grants, work study programs, income-based rebates versus an income contingent repayment strategy, loan remission and the amount which one can make in part-time earnings concerning student loan programs.
Harrison explained the main goal of the conference is to develop a strong stance on how students want to see the financial aid system in Canada. "The federal government is in line to make changes but they don't have a plan yet. As consumers, we want to give them direction for this plan."
Specific issues CASA would like to see discussed and implemented are an extension of interest and relief within a loan program, a debt-reduction mechanism put in place by the federal government, special up-front grants to high-need students and those with dependents and a change in needs assessment.
"I honestly think we will achieve 90 per cent of our goals and have a great impact which will result in change," Harrison said.
He added a possible obstacle in the process of bringing about change may be convincing all provinces to sign on to a federal implemented policy. "The key players in this process are the provinces and students."
Castiglione said establishing a solid federal program will hopefully result in a trickle-down effect on the provinces. He added he is also optimistic about CASA's ability to shape the policy-making process.
"We are taking key members of the government out of Ottawa at a crucial time because they have requested our assistance," Castiglione explained. Realistically, he said, the government has shown their willingness to listen and discuss, but there will be compromise between the two groups.
Maynard Plant, president of Queen's Alma Mater Society, said two representatives from Queen's will be attending the conference as observers, as non-members of CASA are not permitted to participate in discussion. He said he felt it was important to attend the meeting as crucial issues would be confronted.