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Student financial aid not prioritized in PETL budget

Student financial aid was underrepresented in the New Brunswick government’s Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour budget estimate announced last Wednesday.

While there were some improvements in student mobility and credit transfer, the only related announcement to student financial aid was a 3.3 million dollar increase to the tuition rebate program.

The New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA) is arguing that this budget estimate missed the mark when it came to students.

“We were disappointed to not see any substantial investments in student financial aid that truly effective to helping students,” said Pat Joyce, executive director of the NBSA.

“Our position is that the government should be prioritizing and emphasizing financial aid for all students who need help the most.”

Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Jody Carr said the help given to students isn’t only reflected in the 3.3 million dollars to the tuition rebate program.

“The support we’re giving in the budget isn’t just the [tuition rebate program]. We provided the 3.3 million dollars but there are a number of areas in the budget that is going to support students.”

Other investments that focused on students were 4.6 million dollars towards supporting accessibility to post-secondary institutions and increased grants for graduate scholarships, increased support of 4.2 million dollars for universities and the continuation of last year’s three per cent tuition cap.

But Joyce said this wasn’t enough.

“It’s certainly not entirely bad but we felt the student financial aid should have been prioritized more,” he said. “I think it means that really the attention needs to be focused on financial aid to help students who need help the most.”

Joyce also said the NBSA was frustrated that a student financial aid review conducted by the province was not included in the budget announcement.

“We had expected that these budget estimates would also include the announcement of a review of financial aid that’s been ongoing for the past few years,” he said.

The review was supposed to take into consideration suggestions from the NBSA but Joyce said the budget announcement painted a different picture.

“One of the major recommendations that we made for the review was to relocate the New Brunswick tuition rebate to non-repayable, up-front financial aid,” he said.

“The 3.3 million dollars that we saw in [last Wednesday’s] budget estimate announcement suggests that that may not happen in the review so that’s disappointing.”

Carr said the review is still ongoing.

The budget estimate followed an announcement made on March 14 that the province signed an agreement in principle with the federal government to renew labour market agreements and create the Canadian Job Grant.

This means New Brunswick will be receiving 66 million dollars over six years from the federal government to put towards training and employment programs for under-represented people in the job market – including recent graduates.

“What it means for students is that for those that been a recent graduate of university, there will be a pot of funds that originally wasn’t going to be there that will now be in place,” Carr said. “So now recent graduates will be able to qualify for assistance.”

While the Canada Job Grant will primarily only help people who wish to enter the skilled trades, Joyce said it’s a step in the right direction.

“We’re happy to see an investment in training and obviously the skills training is something important for students,” Joyce said.

“I think it’s important to recognize that part of the discourse about skills training needs to include post-secondary education and making it more accessible and more affordable.”

The Canada Job Grant is set to be implemented on Oct. 1.

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