Liberals increase financial aid for students, ease debt repayment rules

TheGlobeandMail.com – News/Politics
Mar. 22, 2016.   Simona Chiose – Education Reporter

Postsecondary students will be a little bit richer and a little bit happier on campus as a result of the Liberal government’s first budget, which increases financial aid and gives money to universities and colleges to spruce up and modernize their buildings and labs.

Changes to financial aid include allowing low-income graduates to defer their student loan payments until they make more than $25,000 a year, and providing a 50-per-cent increase to federal grants to $3,000 from $2,000 for low-income students. (Middle-income students will see an increase to $1,200 from $800.)

Parents, students and seniors: what this federal budget means for you (The Globe and Mail)
“We are absolutely happy to see a shift in the right direction. We are looking forward to the next few years to make sure that postsecondary education is a priority for this government,” said Viviane Bartlett, interim executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

Students will also reap the benefits from the new Postsecondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund, a dedicated $2-billion slice of overall infrastructure spending, and a measure for which the sector had lobbied hard. The budget envisions entrepreneurship and innovation centres, apprenticeship training facilities and research labs being built as a result of the fund and improved environmental sustainability of existing infrastructure.

“Investment in research facilities is significant, so students will have state-of-the-art facilities to learn and work in,” said Paul Davidson, the president of Universities Canada.

The fund is similar to the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, which provided up to $2-billion to support physical and technological infrastructure during the Conservative era. Half of the cost of campus infrastructure projects will be covered through the new program.

Colleges were hopeful that technology infrastructure would also be eligible. “Some of our smaller colleges are hard pressed to upgrade systems for admissions and registrations,” said Linda Franklin, the president of Colleges Ontario.

Along with investment in physical infrastructure, the budget introduces a strategy to help students launch their careers, matching postsecondary institutions with employers offering co-op and internship opportunities. It’s backed by $73-million over four years.

“It means not only paid work for students, but significant experiences that are going to help them in their career later on,” Ms. Bartlett said.

The changes to student aid come a month after the Ontario government also restructured how it delivers grants and loans to make it easier for students to see how much net tuition they will be paying.

In his budget speech, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau highlighted rising tuition bills as one source of pressure on families.

Still, the government needs to be careful not to leave some students behind, Ms. Bartlett cautioned.

Restructuring financial aid will be funded partly by eliminating education and textbook tax credits, and that could leave graduate students worse off. “Graduate students are the only students who benefit from tax credits, but they cannot access Canada Student Grants. We want to make sure [they] can access aid,” Ms. Bartlett said.

Measures for aboriginal postsecondary students were also postponed. The Liberal platform had proposed an additional $50-million for a program that provides financial aid to aboriginal students in college or university. The budget says the government will consult students, parents and indigenous groups on the best measures to increase accessibility and participation. Only about 10 per cent of aboriginal people have a university degree, compared with more than 26 per cent of non-aboriginal graduates.

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