More students applied, but fewer received UBC general bursary in 2020

More students applied for bursaries in 2020 than in 2019, but that number is projected to decrease in 2021, according to UBC Associate VP Enrolment Services & Registrar Kate Ross in a February presentation to the Board of Governors.

Students lacking the means to fund their post-secondary education rely on UBC bursaries, which can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

For some students, the loss of income streams due to the pandemic has laid this need bare.

In the winter 2020 session, 8,033 students applied for UBC’s general bursary compared to 7,639 for winter 2019, marking a five per cent increase. At the same time, the number of bursary recipients decreased from 5,400 to 5,210. While the total amount of bursaries went down from $21.4 million to $20.9 million, there was an increase in fellowships and awards. The overall amount of bursaries, fellowships and awards went up from $97.2 million to $101.8 million.

Ross said the decrease in bursaries for 2020 was due to increased government aid brought about by the pandemic. For fall 2020 to 2021, Ottawa doubled the maximum amount of Canada Student Grants and increased weekly student loan limits.

The university calculates individual general bursaries by taking a student’s tuition costs and subtracting the money that a student can pay from their total expenses, as well as any government aid. The difference is unmet need, which the bursary fills.

But for 2021, UBC projects that only 7,007 students will apply and that 3,128 will receive a general bursary — a 13 per cent and 40 per cent decrease from 2020 respectively.

Students receiving more government money decreases the total amount of bursary money that they can receive from UBC. More students are living at home and incurring fewer expenses this year, further decreasing the unmet need. This means that fewer students are applying for student loans, which they must do to be eligible for a bursary.

“If students could reduce their costs over this year and not take out a loan, then they might not choose to take out a loan and therefore they wouldn’t be eligible for a bursary,” said Ross.

Ross believes that these changes are why applications have dropped. With fewer living costs, students who normally need bursaries are in a more secure position.

According to Ross, it’s impossible to know whether this trend will continue in future years.

“I think it’s very, very dependent on the federal government and provincial government’s decisions, loan amounts and grant amounts,” said Ross. “Either one of those things changes, that actually changes the amount of unmet need that students would have.”

To account for sudden changes in students’ financial needs, UBC also offers emergency bursaries to all domestic and international students as short-term solutions.

However, this decrease raises questions about how UBC distributes its bursaries and whether more aid should be available. According to student Board of Governors representative Max Holmes, UBC’s formula doesn’t account for major shocks such as the pandemic.

“This was a formula not created for a pandemic world,” said Holmes. “... I think that’s one of the reasons that student governors have really pushed the need for a holistic student affordability plan that gets beyond just student financial aid and bursaries.”

Holmes recommended a housing bursary or better use of the fact that UBC owns below market on-campus housing. According to Ross, the university has already introduced a housing bursary for both first and second-year students.

Both agree that the university has a tremendous capacity to ensure that students are supported beyond bursaries.

“The amount of experts that we have in areas of public policy, we should really be bringing resources together and seeing what can we do that is bold and different on affordability,” said Holmes.

“Student financial aid is one part of that but we need to be looking beyond.”