Student associations pleased with federal budget changes to loan repayment plans

“I think it's very important to remember to make post-secondary education more affordable and to remove barriers to accessing post-secondary education in the years to come.”

Tim Gulliver, incoming president of the University of Ottawa Students Association, calls the 2021 federal budget a 'historic investment.'

Student unions in Ottawa are applauding the new federal budget, saying funding increases for grants, extension of the interest-free period for loans and changes to the repayment assistance program will make post-secondary education more accessible.

The Trudeau Liberals pledged $4.1 billion to help ease the financial burden of post-education in Monday’s sprawling financial blueprint, quickly winning plaudits from student groups who have long argued for more federal funding.

Tim Gulliver, incoming president of the University of Ottawa’s Student Union, says the plan addresses requests that many student organizations have been making for years, calling it “a pretty historic investment” in education.

In the budget, the governing Liberals promised to extend the current freeze on interest on student loans for another year and to double the amount of money available through the Canada Student Grants program, as well as to overhaul the repayment assistance plan for those paying student loans.

Currently, loan repayment support is offered to those living alone earning $25,000 per year or less. The government says it will extend repayment assistance to those earning $40,000 a year or less, exempting individuals in that income bracket from having to make payments on federal student loans.

The budget refers to students as being among the demographic hardest hit by the pandemic, vowing to make sure Canadian youth are “at the centre of our recovery.”

Kathleen Weary, president of the Carleton University Students’ Association, says her group has been been lobbying with the Canadian Federation of Students — both provincially and federally — this past year for an extension of the moratorium on interest for student loans. She’s very pleased with the budget plan, including supports offered to students with disabilities.

In the budget, the Liberals committed to allowing an estimated 40,000 recipients with non-permanent disabilities to access to up to $22,000 in grants, in-study supports and specialized repayment assistance on their loans.

Carleton University Students’ Association president Kathleen Weary. Photo by Raha Bassidj
Carleton University Students’ Association president Kathleen Weary. Photo by Raha Bassidj

“I think it’s good to see direct support for students, as well as an intersectional approach that considers students with disabilities,” Weary said, adding she was happy to see the Liberals continued the emergency rent subsidy, increased the federal minimum wage, offered expanded childcare support and promised a green recovery plan in the budget.

“All those things also affect students.”

Gulliver said he was pleased to see that the government’s promised financial supports were targeted for those who need assistance most.

“I think it’s very important to remember to make post-secondary education more affordable and to remove barriers to accessing post-secondary education in the years to come.”

Under the budget plan, Canada Student Grants would be doubled for the 2020-2021 school year until July 2023. Full-time students will be eligible to receive up to $6,000 in Canada Students Grants and a maximum of $3,600 for part-time students.

In the budget, the Liberals also promised enhanced supports to help address youth and student unemployment. The pandemic has caused steep job losses among young Canadians and has made it difficult to gain meaningful job experience. Specifically, the government pledged $239.8 million for the Student Work Placement Program in 2021-22, $109.3 for a youth employment and skills strategy for 2022-23 and $371.8 million in new funding for Canada Summer Jobs in 2022-23.

“Finding jobs in this job market is extremely difficult. I have lots of friends who are struggling to find work, when they might not have had previously,” Gulliver said.

While pleased overall with the budget, though, Weary said there was still room for improvement.

“It’s a great start, but I think students are looking for student loan forgiveness, which would be much better than just a waiving of interest. The money that they’re spending paying back their student loans could be invested in buying a house or participating in the economy.”

Gulliver said government action was needed to ensure education remained affordable.

“I think it’s really important for all levels of government to look into how they can make education more affordable for students in the next few years because students are going to be a very vital part of Canada’s economic recovery from COVID-19.”

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