Millennium fund may ignore first-years

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By Nelia Raposo

The foundation responsible for doling out $2.5 billion in scholarships once the millennium arrives may not help first-year university and college students.

Full- and part-time postsecondary education students in financial need can look forward to applying for one of the federal government’s millennium scholarships for the next academic year.

But since people in higher years have greater debt loads than first-year students, they will have priority, said Brian Milton, a member of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

“It is too early to say that first-year students will be excluded,” said Milton. “Some of them may be, but it depends.”

The $2.5 billion millennium scholarship fund was announced in 1998 as part of the Liberal government’s budget.

Members of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) said first-year postsecondary students shouldn’t be excluded from receiving money.

“It is a bit of a tug-of-war,” said Martin Simard, CASA communications officer.

He said the foundation has to try to help people already in university or college without turning away newcomers. “To right out deny first-year students, to us, is unacceptable,” Simard said.

“This is one of the few times that CASA and CFS agree,” said Joel Harden, CFS-Ontario chair.

Harden said the fund should be bigger considering the liberal government’s cutbacks to the education system. “While it is a step in the right direction, it’s a baby step.”

The money will be distributed to about 100,000 people a year over the next 10 years.

“Financial need is the main criteria,” said Milton, who hopes application forms will be ready before September.

According to data collected from the Canada Student Loans program in 1996/97, 520,000 Canadian students quality.

“The challenge we have is that this number far exceeds the resources available,” said Milton.

He said the foundation decided it would be better for students if fewer $3,000 awards were given out rather than more scholarships worth less money.

If too many people apply, Milton said the foundation will look at students’ merit, taking into account the number of postsecondary courses they have completed and the number of courses they’re enrolled in.

The foundation’s next step is to start negotiations with the provinces as soon as possible to “complement the existing financial assistance programs in the provinces and avoid duplication of their application processes,” Milton said.

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