National

OTTAWA (CUP) — According to Statistics Canada there are more than 2 million Canadians in post-secondary education programs across the country—just below six per cent of the population. The federal budget released on April 21 offered more funding to support students in a number of areas.

“The total contributions are $419 million over four years. Students have not seen this kind of investment in financial aid in several years,” said Jonathan Champagne, executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations in a statement.

The budget focused on helping students obtain funding while in school, supporting graduate student research and investing in internships, protecting interns, and ensuring education is aligned with market needs.

Funding

Low- and middle-income students will be able to qualify for Canada Student Grants if their program is a minimum of 34 weeks in duration. Currently students are only eligible for programs with a minimum of 60 weeks. This should impact approximately 42,000 students, 22,000 of whom attend private career colleges.

Mister of Finance Joe Oliver said in his speech that the budget would focus on ensuring “the skills of our graduates match the needs of our economy.” However, the quality of education at private colleges has been brought into question in the wake of the recent abrupt closure of Everest College’s Canadian campuses and funding students who attend these schools may not benefit the economy.

In a CBC report, former Everest College students said those who didn’t show up for class did well in spite of their attendance. A former teacher said students who failed tests were given makeup tests and provided with the answers. While the school boasted a 100 per cent success rate for graduates, reports found some former students were unable to pass certification tests to proceed in the profession for which they received training.

The way parental income is used in assessment for student government loans has been a problem for students for some time. Catherine Di Cesare, a 2005 graduate of the University of Guelph said her parents’ income disqualified her from a government student loan in 2001, forcing her to take a bank loan she’s “still paying off ten years later.” Current University of Ottawa student Moussa Sangaré-Ponce has had the same problem obtaining loans since he began school in 2011.

Students applying for financial aid under the Canada Student Loans program will now have the expected parental contribution reduced. Further, students who work while studying will no longer have their in-study income count against their needs assessment. Currently support is reduced by each dollar made over $100 per week. This change is estimated to affect 87,000 students.

Canadian Federation of Students chair Jessica McCormick said in a statement that the relaxation of restrictions on needs assessment will only put more students into debt.

“The government is telling students who have to work or whose parents can’t help them cover school costs to take on more loans with more interest in order to make ends meet,” she said. “By reallocating ineffective tax credits and savings schemes into the Canada Student Grants Program, we could eliminate the need for federal student loans altogether without spending an extra dime.”

The government will also provide $12 million over three years to Indspire to finance postsecondary scholarships and bursaries for First Nations and Inuit students. A minimum of $1 million will support students pursuing education in the trades. According to Statistics Canada, half of aboriginal Canadians aged 25-64 have a post-secondary education, but 28 per cent have no post-secondary education compared with 12 per cent of non-aboriginal Canadians.

Graduate students

Over five years, starting in 2015-16, $45 million will be given to TRIUMF, a physics laboratory in Vancouver with the world’s largest cyclotron particle accelerator. Scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students from 18 member universities across Canada work on international research projects, including contribution to the production of medical isotopes used to treat thyroid and breast cancer, among others.

CANARIE, Canada’s high-speed research network will receive $105 million over five years starting in 2015-16. This network is used by researchers, including graduate students, at academic institutions, as well as science facilities and federal laboratories to share their research and facilitate collaboration.

Beginning in 2016-17, the government will provide $15 million per year ongoing to the Natural Sciences and Research Council and $56.4 million over four years to fund 6,000 graduate-level business-related internships through Mitacs’ Accelerate program.

In 2017-18, the government will also provide funding to the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This will be invested in advanced research facilities and equipment at universities, colleges, research hospitals, and other not-for-profit research institutions.

“The federal government’s $1.33-billion investment to the Canada Foundation for Innovation—the largest single investment ever made in research infrastructure support—will allow universities to attract the very best talent and conduct the kind of ground-breaking research that transforms lives and meets Canada’s strategic goals for success,” said Max Blouw, chair of the Council of Ontario Universities and president of Wilfrid Laurier University, in a statement.

Interns

In 2011, Andy Ferguson died in a head-on collision after working excessive hours at a mandatory unpaid internship at an Alberta radio station. Since then there has been a push for federal regulation of unpaid internships. According to the budget, the Canada Labour Code will be amended to ensure that interns, whether or not they are paid, will receive occupational health and safety protections. The Canada Labour Code will also clarify under which circumstances unpaid internships can be offered, although legislation providing further details is still to come.

Post-graduate

The government will work with different jurisdictions to ensure apprenticeship training and certification requirements in Red Seal trades use the same sequencing in their curricula and have similar hours for training in class and on the job. This will make it easier for tradespeople to relocate between provinces without being held back by not meeting job requirements

There may be concerns about funding loans for students attending private colleges, but the government does have plans to direct educational funding to meet market demands and ensure graduates can transition to the workforce. Starting in 2017-18, an investment of $65 million over four years will be made to businesses and industry associations to allow them to work with willing post-secondary institutions to ensure educational programs are equipped to teach their students the skills required to be well-trained and employable upon graduation.

Much of the funding promised to students in the new budget is slated to go into effect after this year. It remains to be seen what other parties will bring to the table to entice students.

“We are extremely pleased to see that government is taking students’ priorities seriously,” said Champagne. “We only wish students didn’t have to wait until after an election to see them come to fruition.”