Youth support was a large focus for Justin Trudeau during the election, but it is still in question whether the Liberals will fully deliver on their campaign promises. The recent release of the federal budget gives us some insight to the road to come for students and youth for the 2016-’17 tax year and beyond.
There will be a new way of assessing eligibility for Canada Student Loans.
A flat-rate student contribution to determine eligibility for loans and grants will replace the current system of assessing student income and financial assets. This change will provide $267.7 million in assistance over four years, starting in 2017-’18, and $73 million per year after that.
Loan repayment regulations were also increased. The repayment threshold under the Canada Student Loans Program’s Repayment Assistance Plan now ensures that no student will have to repay their loan until they are earning at least $25K per year.
Whether or not these changes will eliminate the looming shadow of student debt is yet to be determined.
In 2012, the Canada Student Loan Program estimated that outstanding student debt was over $28 billion. This number only includes loans from the federal and provincial student loan programs. Government funding for colleges and universities fell from 83 per cent in 1982 to 55 per cent in 2012. This has resulted in sky rocketing tuition and ancillary fees paid by students and their families—including the new “student services” and other fees being implemented across BC this year.
Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-BC (CFS-BC) Simka Marshall believes there is more the government can do to support universities and colleges. “This budget provides a bandaid solution that will help some, but ultimately doesn’t fix the problems caused by chronic underfunding of the system,” she said.
There will be a 50 per cent increase to the Canada Student Grant (CSG) amounts.
The CSG will increase from $2K to $3K per year for students from low-income families, and from $800 to $1200 per year for students from middle-income families. For part-time students, the CSG increases from $1200 to $1800. In total, these measures will provide $1.5 billion in assistance over five years, starting in 2016-’17, and $329 million per year after that.
Yet, there were few other factors addressing rising tuition fees—an issue VIU’s own Students’ Union has brought up repeatedly. VIU’s 2016-’17 budget has approved a two per cent increase on tuition for Canadian students.
“This budget offers a welcomed boost to the CSG program,” Marshall said. “But without a comprehensive plan for reducing the barriers to post-secondary education, students from low and middle-income families will continue to be squeezed out of our colleges and universities, ending up unemployed like so many of their generation.”
The budget addressed primary and secondary education on Indigenous reserves; of the $8.4 billion set for Indigenous peoples and reserves in general, $2.6 billion of that will go toward improving primary and secondary education on reserves, but there was no mention of Indigenous students at the post-secondary level.
“While there were significant investments in other sectors for Indigenous people in Canada, Justin Trudeau’s government has failed to acknowledge Indigenous college and university students,” said Shayli Robinson, Aboriginal Students’ Representative of the CFS-BC. “The lack of funding for Indigenous students prevents thousands from enrolling.”
The Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) provides funding to status First Nations and Inuit students to alleviate barriers associated with post-secondary education. Since 1996, increases to the program have been capped at two per cent, which does not keep up with inflation, rising tuition fees, or the rapidly growing Indigenous population.
During the federal election, Trudeau committed to removing the two per cent cap on the PSSSP and to invest $50 million into the Program. In the 2016 Federal Budget released March 22, there were no investments made toward Indigenous post-secondary education.
“The Trudeau government should keep its promises to Indigenous people,” added Robinson. “The lack of financial assistance has limited Indigenous learners’ abilities to achieve their potential, and has upheld the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners.”
Currently, the government invests over $330 million into the Youth Employment Strategy, which aims to help young people acquire necessary skills for employment. In 2016-’17, the Liberals are raising this to $495.4 million. The Liberals claim the funding will help create new green jobs for youth and increase the amount of young people who access the government’s skills link program, which helps Canadians transition into the workforce.
This goes in hand with the Liberal’s February announcement of doubling the resources behind the Canada Summer Jobs Program. It will go from $106 million last year to $133 million each year for the next three years. This will help create approximately 70 thousand summer jobs for students until 2018.