Conference attacks student debt
By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
A conference held last weekend between the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and Human Resources Development Canada may illustrate a growing trend to attack student debt through discussion with the federal government.
The conference attempted to highlight the issues of student debt and accessibility with regard to tax measures, the income contingent loan repayment plan and the Millenium fund, said Ryan Parks, Ontario regional director of CASA.
CASA presented models of student-acceptable income contingent loan repayment plans and pointed out HRDC were basing their models of debt repayment on incorrect numbers of around $17,000, Parks said.
"We understood that some of the numbers [HRDC] used in their examples were less than desirable." CASA hopes their work with the federal government will eventually affect provincial levels of government.
Gayle Morris, senior communications advisor on the Canada Student Loan program at Human Resources Development Canada, said recommendations made during discussion with various groups such as CASA create further discussion and consultation.
"I believe all discussion on debt management and special opportunity grants for students is useful and it is from these discussions that we can consult lenders and provinces in addition to other student groups under umbrella organizations."
In a similar meeting held this past Friday between the Council of Ontario Universities, university leaders and Finance Minister Paul Martin, the issue of student debt and loans was also broached by those concerned by the repercussions of these problems.
Presidents from various universities discussed what they considered to be problems with the current system during talks with Martin, said Barry McCartan, executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance.
"The meeting marks an important change on behalf of universities since in the past they have usually campaigned for tuition increases during these type of meetings."
Bonnie Patterson, president of COU, said this is the first time they have been able to meet with the minister on a federal level, adding the meeting does not necessarily indicate a new trend but rather the issues have been raised to a higher level of governmental discussion.
"Many elements of the current system were designed long ago and I believe it is time for review in light of the economy and demands being made on students."
Although President Paul Davenport was unable to attend this meeting, he said he was delighted the Finance Minister agreed to meet with COU. "I am hopeful the national government will make student debt a priority."