Volume 96, Issue 85
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

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Student debt hurts access?

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

A recently released national survey on post-secondary education found student debt-loads are increasingly unmanageable due to limited financial assistance, yet critics argue the survey is flawed and the findings are misleading.

Making Ends Meet: The 2001-2002 Student Financial Survey, a report conducted for the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, gathered the monthly income and expenditure information of 1,200 college and university students. The students, all over the age of 20, were questioned on the adequacy of financial assistance programs, said Alex Usher, director of research and development at CMSF, in a press release.

"These findings beg the question, do our student financial aid programs have the right clients, and are we providing them with appropriate support?" Usher asked, adding the eligibility standards for financial aid are not meeting the needs of students.

Joel Duff, Ontario chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students, said the survey was politically motivated and designed to mask the agenda of the CMSF and, by extension, the Canadian government.

"The [CMSF] was trying to do research that said higher tuition fees do not affect access," Duff said.

Duff said he believes the CMSF's answer to the accessibility crisis is to increase student loan limits, but this will only compound student debt.

"[The foundation] is trying to justify higher loan limits, but this would then justify higher tuition," Duff explained, calling the solution a problem in itself.

However, another student group said the scope of CMSF's survey was to analyze student finances, not make broad recommendations. Leslie Church, executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, said the survey helps student lobby groups form policy decisions.

"[The CMSF's] research agenda – has seriously attempted to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of how students fund their education," Church said, adding the CFS's solution of a tuition freeze does not fit with the intended scope of the survey.

Church said OUSA is advocating for loan forgiveness – a method which converts a portion of a loan into a grant – and for higher limits for student borrowing.

However, Duff said OUSA member schools should reconsider their affiliation with the organization. "Students at Western should be concerned that their representatives are asking for an increase in student loan [limits] rather than a tuition freeze," he said.

The CMSF could not be reached for further comment on these issues.

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