CFS says government is stalling
Torey Ellis, Staff Contributor
Another study of Nova Scotian student finances is just a stalling mechanism, says the Canadian Federation of Students.
“Students have already made their voices clear,” says Elise Graham, a NSCAD student and chairperson for CFS–Nova Scotia. “We feel like the NDP is stalling.”
The provincial NDP recently decided to consult students on the measures that they think need to be taken to overcome student debt. The average student debt in Nova Scotia after a four-year undergraduate degree is $30,128, the highest in Canada.
The province conducted two similar studies in the past three years, one in 2007 and one earlier this year, called “Back to Balance.”
Both asked Nova Scotian citizens what they wanted to see their money going to, and in both cases the answer was reducing student debt via government grants and retaining university graduates.
Dal student Tessa Eisenberg says, “I’d love to have more grants, obviously, but not if it means less for health care or something like that.”
Participants also recognized in their answers a need for tuition to be lowered, even though that issue was left out of the questions.
Instead, in this year’s budget the province promised a tax rebate of up to $15,000 for university grads who stay in Nova Scotia. With the average student debt hovering around $31,000, “up to $15,000” might not make enough of a difference, the CFS says.
Eisenberg has also never heard of the tax rebate. “That’s something that’s not been advertised to a great degree, but it’s pretty cool,” she says.
Leonard Preyra, the NDP MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, says that the rebate is geared towards keeping grads in Nova Scotia, but “now we’re trying to support students as they go through their university education.”
“I spend a lot of time with students,” says Preyra, who is also a professor and former chair of political science at Saint Mary’s University. “I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on.”
“Students aren’t going to university to get a back-end rebate,” says Graham. “Students can’t wait until the end, they need money while they’re going through it.”
Preyra says he sees that the “unmet need” of students, the gap between what they’re earning and what university costs, seems to be growing. “Full time students are also working full time, an incredible number of hours per week.”
He says the decision to conduct a financial consultation came about to examine “the poor state of general support for students,” and will look at the province’s programs for loans and grants.
“Loans and grants should be more tailored, especially to those who need it most,” he says. “We want to make sure that students who are qualified have access.”
Although he does not know where the money for more grants would come from in a provincial government that is running a $700 million deficit, he says that “the whole debate is going to take place within the context of staying within our means.”
Graham disagrees. “The government has the money, it’s just not funding it to education,” she says. “It’s a matter of priorities.”
Eisenberg also wonders where the money would come from, and how expensive another study would be.
The fact that most of Eisenberg’s financial aid is coming from the university and from loans is not lost on Preyra. “We see more and more resources coming from the university and less and less trickling down from the government,” he says.
The government will be looking at combining loans, grants and rebates to try to meet student need.
The 2007 consultation, which consulted 750 people and seven shareholder groups, ended with a recommendation that up-front grants and loan forgiveness need to be put into place.
In the “Back to Balance” survey, Nova Scotians said reducing tuition fees and loans in favour of non-repayable grants was a priority.
“It’s just a difference of strategy, really,” says Preyra.