Money in 2000
By Sara Marett
In his response to the Governor General's Throne speech marking the opening of Parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced the creation of the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Endowment Fund a billion dollar scholarship program for university and college students.
Chrétien said the fund will reward academic excellence and will provide thousands of scholarships each year, beginning in the year 2000 for low and moderate income Canadians to help them attend university and college.
University community members, however, have concerns about the fund, particularly its timing.
The announcement was a surprise for Hoops Harrison, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, who said the federal government announced the new fund in a hurry, with no plans in place.
Harrison said the fund is great for students in the year 2000, but if the government really wanted to solve the problem of student debt they would do something right now. "This is something they should have done three years ago. By timing it as they have it is a re-election scheme, which is insulting."
At present, this fund by-passes the fact that student debt has increased from $8,700 in 1994 to a projected $25,000 in 1998, Harrison said. "Over half of students are on financial assistance why doesn't the government still not understand this is a problem right now?" He said he wondered how much the student debt load will be three years from now.
"Everyone is pleased with this announcement, it is good news. On the other hand, however, there is a real urgency on the issue of student support," said Western's provost and vice-president academic Greg Moran, adding any delay in a solution would be regrettable.
Moran said a better student loan program needs to be in place to help the problem of student debt. "There's still a lot of work to do."
"I think it's about time the federal government recognizes the importance of finding other ways of funding students' education," said Western's University Students' Council President Ryan Parks.
There was a significant jump in student debt between 1994 and 1997, he explained. "Did it have to get this bad for them to realize something like this had to be done?"
The federal government needs to increase grants to universities and colleges so they, in turn, don't have to raise tuition, Parks said. "We don't mind paying our share, but don't put us in the position where we can't pay it back," he said, adding some banks are already pulling out of student loan programs due to students failing to pay their debts.
The scholarship has Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance executive director Barry McCartan a little worried. "These scholarships need to be awarded on a need-based plan not simply academic merit," he said.
McCartan is also concerned about possible repercussions of the fund. "What's the guarantee the universities won't decrease their scholarship funds if the government is now picking up the tab?" He added there is no reason why the government could not put this fund in place by next year.
Details about the scholarships will be released in the following weeks, said Pascale Montminy, press officer in the Prime Minister's office.