Advocates criticize insufficient support for students in 2022 federal budget

Student advocates from various Canadian universities criticized the 2022 federal budget, claiming it contains insufficient student support and minimal progress on promises like student debt relief. 

The Undergraduates of Canadian Research Intensive Universities (UCRU) — a student advocacy group  which the AMS is a part of — released a statement on the federal budget in which it celebrated some wins for students but noted the lack of overall progress. 

UCRU said it was glad to see some commitments being reaffirmed in the short-term, such as the waiving of interest on student loans until March 2023, increasing the Repayment Assistance Plan threshold to 40,000, and the temporary doubling of Canada Student Grants. 

However, the budget falls short in providing long-term assurance to students struggling to financially recover from the pandemic, according to the statement. 

The newest budget did not follow through on the Liberal Party’s campaign promises to permanently eliminate interest on student loans, increase the repayment assistance threshold to $50,000, or hire 1,200 new counsellors to provide mental health support on university campuses. 

“While the waiving of interest rates on Canada Student Loans and extending the doubling of the Canada Student Grants has allowed students some breathing room, the ending of these initiatives will bring serious financial hardship to students and recent graduates,” Eunice Oladejo, UCRU secretary-treasurer, said in the statement. 

Saad Shoaib, the outgoing AMS VP external and vice-chair of  UCRU noted that students are among the groups most affected by the pandemic and play a key part of the economic recovery. 

“Students need enough time after graduation to seek work before having to repay their loans,” Shoaib said. “Studies show us that students are genuinely afraid of eating up their savings, and that's gonna have long term financial impacts, like delaying home or car purchases.” 

Tuition rates, student debt, and inflation have all been rising in Canada, putting significant financial pressure on students

Nathalie Cappe, VP external relations of the UBC Graduate Student Society pointed out that graduate students are a unique demographic that is generally older, with more accumulated debt, and comprised of more international students, who pay higher tuition fees. 

Cappe said the lack of permanent provincial funding streams or needs-based grants, coupled with federal funding that no longer reflects the rising cost of living, have heightened financial barriers to graduate-level education. 

While she was glad to see the federal budget acknowledge the importance of supporting innovative research, Cappe felt that it failed to recognize graduate students as the “backbone” of the institutions at the forefront of this innovation. 

“When you throw around the word researcher, often without realizing it, you are referring to the labour of graduate students …what concerns me is the emphasis on research but not a lot of support available for those researchers.” 

Graduate students are not eligible for the Canada Student Grant program, which is one of few financial aid expansions promised in the federal budget. 

“Ultimately, this budget doesn’t really explicitly identify the needs of graduate students on a federal level,” Cappe said. 

MP Joyce Murray, who represents UBC’s riding Vancouver Quadra, said the Liberal party is still hoping to make progress on key student priorities during the rest of its four-year mandate. 

“Some things will continue to roll out in the next three budgets,” Murray said. “We can methodically bring forward our election promises year after year, but it should never be expected that an election promise will be delivered in the first budget.” 

Murray also emphasized the progress made by the current federal administration on other issues that matter to students, such as climate change and dental care. 

“I think that it’s important for the federal government to communicate to students to make sure [they] understand that this is not something that will be completed over a year, this is something that the federal government is working on,” Shoaib said. 

“We need not only be exploring ways to better the financial lives of students today, but also bettering the financial lives of students tomorrow.”