Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.1

September 9, 2004


Students face loan changes

By Yannis Themelis

University life is difficult enough, but for students on the Quebec student aid program who are discovering that their bursaries have all but vanished, life just got a lot tougher.

While students will receive the same amount of assistance for their education, the Quebec government has reapportioned the combination of loans and bursaries given to students. As a result, students will see the maximum loan of $2,460 per year increase to a maximum of $4,500. Students will only get bursaries if their needs exceed the new loan threshold.

“The government had to cut costs, and had to find a way to reduce the deficit,” said Roger Côté , executive director of student enrolment and student services at Concordia.

“By giving the same amount of money to students in the form of a loan, they are reducing costs. The government is saying “You have to pay a greater share of your education we don't have the means to do it.”

For the 6,000 Concordia students who depend on the program for the livelihood, this means a greater proportion in repayable loans and a smaller proportion in non-repayable bursaries, translating into greater debt load upon graduation.

“In the short term, it doesn't lower the amount of money in students' pockets, it simply means a greater cost students will assume in the long term,” said Côté, referring to the new increase in the average debt load from $12,000 to $18,000 for an undergraduate degree.

However, for Alison Beck, vice-president academic for Concordia Student Union, this latest policy shift is just another indication that Jean Charest's campaign promises about higher education are nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

“During the election, the Charest government said education was a priority,” Beck said. “It seems that every decision they’ve made points to the fact that it’s not.”

According to Beck, Quebec's justification for reapportioning the loans and bursaries on the grounds that many places in North America don't have a bursaries program simply doesn't wash with the student body.

“The scary thing is that students didn’t know about it,” said Beck, commenting on Quebec’s inability to properly inform students across the province. “Students have already figured out their finances for the upcoming school year, and now they will be faced with a situation where they don’t know where they will get the money.”

But while students may be scrambling to find a solution to the impending increase, Côté believes a student loan is still a wise investment for building a successful future.

“If it's the only way one can finance their education, it's a good investment, which over a lifetime will pay off many, many times,” said Côté, who said that while Quebec’s student debt load has increased, it's still lower compared to the $25,000 under the Canadian Student Loan Program.

However, for many students like Jayed Atallah, an undergraduate biochemistry student, who in addition to receiving assistance works two jobs to make ends meet, the decrease in bursaries could jeopardize her studies.

“It’s going to affect my lifestyle because I'm going to have to work extra to make up for the money deducted,” said Atallah, who like many other students get a deduction in their loan due to other income.“This means that I will be unable to focus on my studies because I’ll be jumping from one job to another.”