Student unions say the new federal budget provides financial security for students and recent graduates who are getting into a tough job market.
The 2021 Federal Budget introduced in the House of Commons on April 19, proposed significant changes for post-secondary students, including doubling the Canada Student Grant program for two years, allotting up to $6,000 in non-fundable tuition aid per school year and waiving interest rates on loans until March 31, 2023.
Other changes include more than $1.4 billion to help post-secondary students and youth participate in federal government funded-jobs programs, internships, apprenticeships and other work opportunities.
Bryn De Chastelain, chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), said the changes in the federal budget will help reduce the financial barriers for students in accessing post-secondary education.
“The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations has always been a huge supporter of upfront non repayable grants,” he said. “It is a huge investment for students and it’s really going to go a long way to reducing the amount of student debt.”
The government will also expand the threshold for loan payment assistance by increasing the threshold for repayment to $40,000 from $25,000 for graduates living alone.
“These changes in terms of student repayment are really going to be critical for students that are trying to graduate and move through their degree without taking on more debt,” De Chastelain said.
The budget includes supporting Indigenous post-secondary education during the pandemic, which will provide $150.6 million over two years starting in the 2021-2022 school year.
That support will help Indigenous students who lost income and rely on paying tuition fees, books, housing and other living expenses during their study period.
Nicole Brayiannis, the national deputy chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), said although these are first steps in the right direction, more needs to be done for BIPOC students.
“BIPOC students are disproportionately impacted in their ability to access post-secondary education and will need the support the most,” she said.
“The government needs to introduce measures that are going to be supporting these individuals who over a year now have been asking for support and continue to be left behind,” she said.
In the job market, the government announced it will create 215,000 additional “job skill development and work opportunities” by increasing funding to federal job placement programs such as Canada Summer Jobs.
This follows the demise of the $912 million WE charity and the Canada Student Services Grant that was cut last year in a cloud of controversy. It was a program that was going to support and help students in pursuing work opportunities and gaining some income.
Brayiannis said Canada Summer Jobs initiative is a boon for domestic students under 30 but the program excludes older mature students and international students.
“When we’re looking at recent graduates having an estimated job market, this is why we require the government to be prioritizing financial relief that is eligible for all current students as well as graduates,” she said.
The budget investing in the Student Work Placement Program of 50,000 young people in increase from 20,000 for work integrated learning opportunities for post-secondary students in 2021-2022.
Jason Baryluk, the director of advocacy for the College Student Alliance, said funding job programs is a positive step but other benefits such as the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit should continue.
“We feel that the Canada Emergency Student Benefit should have continued because when the benefits abruptly ended students ended up being in a rock in a hard place,” he said. “That adds a lot of stress on student lives.”
The Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) provided financial support to post-secondary students, and recent graduates who were unable to find work because of COVID-19.
Baryluk said internships are helpful for program that students are in, but more jobs need be open and available for students and graduates.
“I would like to see the federal and provincial governments work on something that would incentivize student in organizations to help bring students abroad,” he said.
Baryluk believes preventing the loss of a generation of students requires the government to provide proper funding for post-secondary education and students.