Ryerson offers bursaries to students left out of COVID-19 federal aid benefits

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By Kashish Hura 

After the Canadian government did not include provisions for post-secondary students in its COVID-19 financial aid efforts, Ryerson has started providing students with financial resources. 

Near the end of March, the university introduced the Ryerson Student Relief Fund—which provides students struggling financially with up to $750.

Nearly 4,000 students applied for the bursary on April 3 when it became available, according to the Student Financial Assistance office. There are limited funds available and the bursary quickly stopped accepting applications on AwardSpring after its initial announcement.

Ryerson alumni, donors, friends, staff and faculty have been contacted to help supply the financial support and extend the bursary to more students in need.

Victor Rusu, a first-year image arts student, is among many Ryerson students who applied for the relief fund. Rusu, 26, also has a daughter to support.

Rusu said every dollar he spent this school year was calculated and he had planned on finding part-time work in his field during March.

“Even the idea of getting employed in my chosen field carried a bit of uncertainty but I was very hopeful at the time. When that fell through, it left me in a terrible spot because not only was there no work, I also didn’t qualify for any of the government’s benefits having been unemployed,” said Rusu.

Rusu said he thinks $750 is a fantastic start, but it won’t sustain him for more than half a month. He is also receiving financial aid from OSAP and was looking forward to a summer job.

Rusu is hesitant about finding work during the pandemic, as he is concerned about contracting the virus and spreading it to his daughter.

“At the same time, I’m conflicted because due to the lack of support for my situation as a student that doesn’t qualify for CERB, I need to go out and work somewhere. I can’t afford to pay rent off credit cards,” said Rusu.

Hripsime Karapetyan, a first-year business management student said she was in between jobs when the state of emergency was declared in late March in Toronto. She received the confirmation of receiving the bursary on April 9.

“I’m now focusing on maintaining my CGPA with online classes so I could reapply for scholarships,” said Karapetyan.

Individual Ryerson departments have also put together emergency bursaries for students and are continuing to fundraise. 

Ben Barry, chair of the Ryerson School of Fashion, said in a tweet that the fashion program will be giving out bursaries to students that can’t afford to cover their immediate costs in a time like this.  

Barry said the idea came from his discussions with Caron Phinney, an assistant professor at the School of Fashion who informed him of a student whose hours were cut at work and was worried about making ends meet.

“I immediately thought that this reality would be faced by many students, and it especially impacted BIPOC, disabled and LGBTQ2+ students because of compounding systemic disadvantage and oppression,” Barry said in an email to The Eyeopener. “I knew we needed to act immediately to support our students; the situation was urgent.” 

The bursary was collected from Barry’s discretionary account, which is set up every semester to help students in emergency situations. Funds allocated for cancelled events were also included.

Barry worked with Cira Nickel, the fashion program’s manager of administration and set up a system where student information could be accessed through RAMSS and they began the process of sending out funds.

All 18 students who applied for it received the bursary.

This emergency bursary has now been implemented by all schools at the Faculty of Communication and Design and boosted by additional funding by dean Charles Falzon. 

In addition to the funding, Barry said the School of Fashion recognizes that working and studying from home is not easy. 

“Students might not have the technology and the home set-up or privacy, and they might have children or younger siblings,” he said. “In these cases, I encouraged them to let us know their contexts and we will accommodate them to ensure they can finish their courses in whatever ways work for them.”

Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts also announced a bursary, which ranges from $200 to $1,000 and can be increased based on students’ needs in exceptional situations. 

The Faculty of Community Services also launched a bursary available to its students. The bursary is aimed to help students who have not received any other funding from Ryerson.

University president Mohamed Lachemi told The Eyeopener that he is very impressed with the response from faculties in helping out students.

“I know that all faculties and departments are working at full capacity to minimize the difficulty that comes with this period of transition and I commend the units who are doing their best to help students,” said Lachemi.

The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) is also trying to put together an emergency grant for students, according to president Vanessa Henry.

“If we start a bursary right now, we would have to set up checks and students won’t get them until we open again, so we’re trying to work out the logistics for that,” said Henry, adding that the RSU is willing to donate money and work with the university.

Like Ryerson, other universities across the city are also extending financial support to students. The University of Toronto is offering an emergency grant to current undergraduate students to help cover short-term finances of the last two months.  The exact amount of the grant is unknown, however it will be assessed based on merit and financial need.

York University is offering bursaries of $1,500—twice the amount Ryerson is offering. Angus Angell, a student at York, is an applicant for the bursary and said he didn’t expect all his plans to be completely disrupted and had to return home to Vancouver.

“Finding work during the pandemic could prove difficult and bearing the cost of rent in a city like Toronto without employment wouldn’t have been possible,” said Angell.

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