By Nicole MacAdam
Prime Minister Jean Chretien took a step towards reducing the high cost of a university education last week, but some student leaders say the $1-billion Millennium Scholarship Fund doesn’t go far enough.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s definitely a small step,” said Simone Saint-Pierre , from the Canadian Federation of Students.
Saint-Pierre said the $1-billion the federal government is pledging towards the fund does not come close to the $2.29 billion they have cut from colleges and universities since 1993. “There needs to be more funding directly into the education system,” she said.
The prime minister announced the scholarship one day after his throne speech.
In the House of Commons, Chretien said the fund will “reward academic excellence, beginning in the year 2000.
“There can be no greater millennium project for Canada…than to help young Canadians prepare for the knowledge-based society of the next century,” Chretien said. The $1-billion endowment will use interest generated by the fund to issue scholarships to low and moderate income students.
But Saint-Pierre said this could be problematic. “What about years with less interest?” she said. “We need something that is more stable.”
RyeSAC V.P. Education Gord Tanner said a national system of grants is a better idea.
“The federal government has got to get on board with this,” he said. “The scholarships are a step. It’s a start. But it’s not going to help students who already have debt.”
Hoops Harrison, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, said the fund bypasses a generation of students who already have huge debts. “Students have hit the wall when it comes to debt,” he said. “It’s coming to the point when it’s affecting access, and that’s bad.”
Harrison said what’s really needed is a review of the Canada Student Loan program. He said the government should put a cap on the amount of debt a student can accumulate.
“It’s going to require an investment on the part of the federal government,” he said.
“But it’s a worthwhile expenditure.”
Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse praised the federal government’s move, saying it’s “a sign that governments have finally recognized that there’s a problem with student debt.”
But he said the scholarships should not be based on grades alone. “It certainly should be used for both academic qualifications and needs,” he said. “It shouldn’t just be based on merit.”