In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities. Now more than ever, the public funding of post-secondary education is critical to our society’s ability to rise beyond the current health and economic crisis.
This summer, we saw piecemeal programs like the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) which provided only $1250 a month to students who were unable to find summer employment. Many students were disappointed that the benefit was much lower than the $2000 available for Canadian Emergency Response Benefit applicants.
Programs like the CESB and Canadian Student Service Grant failed to protect students throughout the pandemic, as well as left international students behind. International students contribute billions of dollars to the economy every year, however, with each new announcement they continually receive less support than domestic students or no support at all. These programs also fall short in meeting the needs of recent graduates and mature students who encounter hurdles in accessing adequate support. The federal government promised $9.2 billion dollars in student relief, yet as of June 2020 only $1.45 billion had been released to students. The CESB expired at the end of August, and we are awaiting another announcement about what the federal government plans to do in order to support students.
With the shift to online learning, access to reliable internet is an ongoing concern. In a holistic approach to education, students need financial support beyond tuition to ensure that regardless of financial situation or geographic location, all students receive the same quality of education.
It is also critical that learning materials be provided in an equitable manner in order to equalize participation. Public investment into accessible educational materials makes sure that no students are left behind in this new learning environment (i.e., closed captioning, sign language, descriptive audio, etc.).
We need a just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic which includes free and universal post-secondary education for all. The Federation continues to put pressure on the federal and provincial governments to immediately reduce tuition fees for all students in Canada and move towards a fully publicly-funded high-quality post secondary education system. A highly-educated society is a benefit for everyone. Public investments will relieve the financial burdens and stresses of debt from students, and guarantee that everyone is able to participate in rebuilding our economy.