Room for improvement
NWT Students' Coalition isn't happy with changes to financial assistance program

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( Jun 02/00) - The NWT Students' Coalition is saying there is still room for improvement to the recently revised Student Financial Assistance program (SFA).

The coalition invited post-secondary students, as well as those who will be attending colleges and universities in the fall, to attend a meeting at the Yellowknife public library Monday, May 29 to discuss changes to the program.

"We were really hoping that everyone across the board would get more money for a longer period of time but, that's not what happened," says Moira Vane, president of the NWT Students' Coalition.

The Student Financial Assistance Act was amended last March by the legislative assembly, giving the program a $500,000 boost and raising its budget from $11.3 million to $11.8 billion.

Under the new act, tuition allowances were increased from $1,250 a semester to $1,750 a semester and funding for books was increased from $200 to $300 per semester. Additionally, the lifetime maximum loan limit was increased to $47,000 across the board from $26,000 (with basic grants) and $36,000 (no grants).

At the outset, the much-anticipated funding increases seemed to be a major victory for the coalition, formed last summer to voice student concerns towards the SFA program. However, the coalition is now saying that the changes have fell short of what they had originally hoped for.

"The bottom line is that there is a lot of money put into the new program but, I don't feel that it was dispersed effectively," says Jennifer Hutchinson, a third year student at the University of Guelph.

"I guess for a lot of third- and fourth-year students, they are being left out of the new plan.

Senior students suffer

"I think its very foolish for the government to not include a lot of senior students, because they are the students who are most likely to be successful getting their degree and most likely to come back North."

One of the concerns the coalition raised centred on funding for non-aboriginal students schooled in the NWT who have already used-up their basic grants and remissible loans under the old system.

A student who has already attended eight semesters in a post-secondary institution and had attended school in the NWT from grades 1 to 12 will not be entitled to any more basic grants or remissible loans. If the same student was starting post-secondary schooling in the fall, he or she would be entitled to 12 semesters of basic grants and remissible loans.

Additionally, students who have used up their basic grants under the old system will not be entitled to the $500 increase towards grants for the upcoming school year under the new plan.

Other concerns had to do with expenses, including damage deposits, long distance phone calls and household furnishings. Expenses, which the coalition say are crucial to most students travelling south to go to school.

Other students expressed frustration in trying to understand the new changes as outlined in the new SFA guide.

One university student who attended the meeting, however, expressed some doubts as to whether the coalition were being reasonable in their demands.

"It would be nice if the six years (new basic grant allotments) applied to me but, the question is where do we draw the line?" says Nicole Wagner.

"You have to set some limits somewhere, so it's a hard call."

'One of the best'

Dave Buchanan, a recent graduate of Sir John Franklin high school who will be attending university for the first time this fall, is critical of SFA's travel criteria, but overall says the program should be recognized as one of the better student finance programs available.

"Its one of the best student financial systems in the world.

"We should appreciate it more and not complain about it as much.

"The student coalition isn't about just improving things once," retorted Vane, when told that some students felt that some of the coalition's concerns were not entirely justified.

"I believe there should be no limits as long as the student is successful."

As of press time, Jake Ootes, minister for Education, Culture and Employment, did not wish to comment on the coalition's concerns. His office informed Yellowknifer that he wishes to speak to the coalition directly before commenting on the manner.