By Cristina Paolozzi, April 29 2021—
On April 19, the Federal government announced their 2021 budget — the first since 2019.
While this budget has a heavier focus on transitioning from an emergency response to a recovery response in the wake of COVID-19, there are some proposals specifically which aim to benefit and support youth, students and postgraduates across the country. Some of the proposals that will directly impact post-secondary students include calls for more student financial support like waiving interest on student loans for another year, doubling the Canada Student Grants and also extending disability supports.
In an interview with the Gauntlet, Students’ Union (SU) vice-president external Marley Gillies talked more about some of the other additions this budget offers students and gave her thoughts on how the government — both federally and provincially — are attempting to include more student-centred solutions moving out of this pandemic.
“Budget 2021 plans to invest $5.7 billion into post-secondary students in Canada, so obviously this is a really great thing,” says Gillies. “It includes strong investments in student financial aid, in funding for mental health services and investments in youth employment and skills training as well. So, overall, it supports students in Canada and we’re really excited to see where this money is actually going.”
Something that Gillies is excited to see in Budget 2021 is the extension of the doubling of the Canada Student Grant until July 2023.
“This is really exciting and really relevant for students right now. In tandem with the budget cuts from the provincial government, this is a really great way for students to still be able to afford to study in Alberta,” explains Gillies.
Other parts of the budget that Gillies noted were the increased funding to Indigenous student aid as well as investments to the Universal Broadband Fund to improve internet access in rural communities.
Gillies says that the federal government is investing $150.6 million over two years to support Indigenous students through the Post-Secondary Student Support Program as well as through the Inuit Post-Secondary Education Strategy and the Métis Nation Post-Secondary Education Strategy. She also notes that the federal budget is investing an additional $1 billion over six years to the Universal Broadband Fund, which supports getting more reliable internet access to students in rural communities. This was something that Gillies received specific student feedback on, noting that “this is supposedly in collaboration with the province. We’re excited to see what that might look like so that we can support more students in this online learning era.”
Gillies is also pleased to see a commitment from both the federal and provincial government to investments in student mental health. Specifically, the federal government has invested $62 million to help students across the country.
“This will support students during this year of isolation and getting back into it whatever that might look like,” says Gillies.
Gillies also noted that, tying in with the provincial government, Budget 2021 sees a strong investment in work integrated learning with increased support for the Canada Summer Jobs program. She expressed that federal programs like the Canada Summer Jobs program are not as accessible as the provincial Summer Temporary Jobs Program (STEP) that was cut in the provincial budget from 2019.
“It’s difficult to say how many Alberta students will actually be able to benefit, but we’re still happy that [the Canada Summer Jobs program] is there, because it will give 50,000 students with work-integrated learning opportunities for the 2021-2022 year,” says Gillies.
Gillies also maintains that she and other student leaders are still calling on the province to see that STEP, or some similar jobs program for students in Alberta, is necessary despite the support from the federal government.
Gillies also says that these financial support programs are designed to keep students in school at the post-secondary level, as, especially in Alberta, cuts to post-secondary education and a recent tuition increase make it more difficult for students to continue to pursue their studies.
“The reach of the federal government isn’t as strong as it is provincially, so although we’re really happy that the federal government is supporting us in this way, it only goes so far and it only touches a certain amount of students,” Gillies continues.
To read more about Budget 2021, click here.