Universities across Canada advocate for greater financial aid

In 2020-2021, the average tuition for full-time undergraduate programs across Canada is $6,580 per year. 52 per cent of students graduate with student debt and an average student has a total of $28,000 in debt when they graduate. 

52 per cent of students graduate with student debt and an average student has a total of $28,000 in debt when they graduate.

Student debt in Canada has been deemed a crisis by many. In 2018, Canadian students collectively owed over $28 billion in student debt. 

The McMaster Students Union is one of the student unions that have joined in to work on the Debt Free Degree campaign, advocating for more accessible and affordable post-secondary education in Canada. 

This campaign is led by the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities and the University Students’ Council at Western University. 

Other student unions that are also taking part in the campaign include the University of Toronto Students’ Union, Students’ Society of McGill University, Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association and more

These nine student unions represent students of the U15 group of Canadian research intensive universities. Collectively, the student unions represent over 250,000 students.

The campaign is calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough to take action.

Mackenzy Metcalfe, vice president of external affairs at Western’s University Students Council and chair of UCRU, said that this would put grants at a total increase of $1200 per student for the 2020-2021 federal budget.

Policy recommendations from the campaign include doubling of investments in Canada Student Grants from what was provided in 2019. Mackenzy Metcalfe, vice president of external affairs at Western’s University Students Council and chair of UCRU, said that this would put grants at a total increase of $1200 per student for the 2020-2021 federal budget.

This amounts to roughly $1 billion from the government. Metcalfe also noted that this was one of the promises made by the Liberal party during the 2019 election. This increase in grants would apply to all students eligible for financial aid.

“Investments in students are investments in the future. Students are really going to make up the workforce of tomorrow and increasing funding for student financial aid will undoubtedly see exponential return in the next couple of years,” said Metcalfe. 

“Investments in students are investments in the future. Students are really going to make up the workforce of tomorrow and increasing funding for student financial aid will undoubtedly see exponential return in the next couple of years,” said Metcalfe. 

MSU Vice President (Education) Ryan Tse declined an interview but wrote in an email statement that the MSU is excited to work on this campaign.

“The Debt Free Campaign [gives] students the opportunity to share their stories and call on the government to help make postsecondary education more accessible and affordable,” wrote Tse.

In previous years, UCRU had advocated for the transfer of federal tuition tax credits to student grants. Currently, the recommendation for the federal government to transfer tuition tax credit funds to upfront grants is also an MSU policy. 

However, the Debt Free Degree campaign had decided not to specify federal tuition tax credits as a source of funding for student grants, but simply advocate for an increase in grants.

“UCRU still believes that tax credits from tuition should be relocated to upfront grants for students, however, during our past few lobby weeks, UCRU received feedback from the government about the proposal. We heard from multiple sources in government that they were not interested in making this change to the tax credit system. However, we did hear that they were interested in supporting students through student financial aid,” Metcalfe explained. 

Although recommendations from the campaign ultimately do not eliminate student debt, Metcalfe said that having a larger proportion of financial aid as grants rather than loans will help decrease the amount of accumulated debt.

Aside from an increase in student grants, the campaign also recommends a two-year grace period on all federal student loans. Currently, federal student loans have a grace period of six months

In other words, students have six months following their study period with no accumulation of interest on their federal student loans. Aside from finishing their final school term, students are also required to repay loans six months after they leave school, take time off school, or transfer from full-time to part-time studies. After those six months, students are expected to begin payment and interests will accumulate. 

In Ontario, financial aid for students is regulated by the Ontario Student Assistance Program. OSAP incorporates both federal and provincial student loans and grants. 

On a provincial level, student loan requirements differ depending on the province. Students in Ontario are not expected to start repaying their provincial student loans until after the first six months, but their loans do accumulate interest during that period of time. 

Across social media, the campaign shares various infographics comparing the average amount of student debt to other various items of the same monetary value such as 112 pairs of AirPods, a Honda Civic, 233 years worth of Netflix subscriptions and 9 million cups of coffee. 

$28,000. That's the amount of debt an average student has when they graduate. You can buy a lot with $28,000. Paying off student debt shouldn't be one of those things. It's time for a change - alongside @UCRU_Can, we're pushing @JustinTrudeau & @CQualtro to take action. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/FbeJu13B5J

— McMaster Students Union (MSU) (@MSU_McMaster) November 6, 2020

Students were encouraged to join the movement by writing a postcard to their local member of parliament. A Google form at www.debtfreedegree.ca was available for students to fill out and UCRU will send the postcard on the student’s behalf. 

Students were also asked to spread the word by sharing posts with the hashtag #DebtFreeDegree on their social media and provide UCRU with feedback by emailing info@ucru.ca

The MSU is working alongside @UCRU_Can and Student Unions across the country to advocate for accessible, affordable post-secondary education in Canada, and a #DebtFreeDegree. Learn more about our fight for Debt Free Degrees at https://t.co/t0I4CFpbCP. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/5o9GvsngPy

— McMaster Students Union (MSU) (@MSU_McMaster) November 3, 2020

The campaign ended on Nov. 16 and Metcalfe stated that over 200 students had shared their feedback. These student concerns will be presented to federal policy makers during UCRU’s annual Federal Lobby Week. This year, the federal lobby week is scheduled from Nov. 23-27.

By: Zara Lewis

Dear Student Debt,

The majority of us are dreading the time when we have to begin to start paying you off. For me, my student debt is just an imaginary number, stored away on computers that I don’t want to have access to, and that I do not want to know the balance of. I’m sure you can relate when I say that paying off that dreaded debt is the last thing I’m looking forward to when I finally manage to secure a job.

In the meantime, living in student debt is a life where every dollar counts. It is a joyous moment when that extra tooney is found at the bottom of your bag and you can afford to buy a Tim’s coffee to accompany an exciting breakfast of dry toast. Ok, so I might be painting the student debt picture a little too grim, there are some perks of living in ignorance on behalf of the bank’s generosity. But all in all, at the end of the day, it boils down to the simple question: how well can you stretch your budget? Whenever there is the latest offer at Metro where pasta is only 88 cents for a pack, do you and your friends hurry on down to get every last pasta shell to stock the cupboards with? Or, when toilet paper goes on sale, do you stock up to your hearts content as if you were never going to leave the toilet for the rest of your life? Yes, it is these very tactics that we poor students have to embrace in order to make our way in the world of student debt.

But instead of ending this rant on a depressing note about student debt, I think that the one thing living in student debt will teach all of us students is how to make a lot out of something little. For example, those nights that we don’t remember anything except going out with fifteen dollars and having the best night of our lives - who knew it was even possible? So yes, living in student debt is certainly not ideal, but we might as well work at having a laugh and taking advantage of the sales of Metro whilst we’re poor, in debt and, most of all, young.

Yours Sincerely,

An optimistic broke student

Farzeen Foda

Senior News Editor


The beginning of each term brings a new rush to bookstores, with students left at the mercy of professors who insist on using new editions of textbooks, and publishers who eagerly await the opportunity to correct a few typos and sell a new edition of an old textbook at almost double the cost.

Textbookrental.ca is a relatively new company, which started as a proactive measure against high textbook prices.

The rental service, which has been mentioned by Macleans and The Globe and Mail, was established by recent university graduates, and is currently run by alumni as well as current university students. The service also boasts a quick and simplistic rental process, “saving students up to 75 per cent off the regular textbook price,” said Jack Neary, Business Development Manager for textbookrental.ca.

Exorbitant prices of textbooks over and above regular tuition fees is a painful pinch on the already stretched wallet, especially when most textbooks serve little to no purpose once a course is completed.

“I hate spending so much money on a textbook that I’ll never use again and have difficulty selling once I’m done with it. It’s the biggest waste of money I can think of,” said Ankita Dubey, a fourth year Psychology student at McMaster.

As recent graduates or current university students themselves, those at textbookrental.ca understand this sentiment and put forth every effort to make their service as student-friendly as possible.

Students can search their textbook of interest online at the company website, using the ISBN number of the textbook, and order it at a nominal shipping rate. Textbookrental.ca subsidizes shipping fees through Canada Post allowing students to have their textbooks delivered directly to them within 2-3 business days, noted Neary.

This feature is intended to save students the back-breaking labour of transporting heavy textbooks home upon purchase, he explained.

Upon rental, the cost of rental varies with the amount of time the student requests to keep the textbook. Once the rental period is has elapsed, students can return the textbook to one of many depots located in key university cities in Ontario and across Canada. Currently, depots are located throughout the GTA, Hamilton, Waterloo, Guelph, Windsor and Montreal. The company is expected to soon establish depots in Kingston, Ottawa and in the west coast, including Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. Return of textbooks can also be done free of charge through postage as the cost of mailing will be reimbursed by textbookrental.ca, explained Neary.

The Hamilton depot is located relatively close to McMaster, on King St. West, and has seen substantial business from McMaster University as well as Mohawk College students.

Students can also sell their used textbooks to textbookrental.ca with a buy-back service available year-round, where “students can receive cash on the spot,” said Neary, explaining that textbook values are monitored daily to get a fair price based on supply and demand, and for buy-backs, “we value [textbooks] higher than the bookstore,” he said.

A textbook rental service of this calibre is a relatively new concept in Canada with another service of its kind “BookMob” which operates similarly, however, in the United States, textbook rental services are more widespread and numerous, with Chegg.com as a popular service that operates in conjunction with the publishing company McGraw Hill.

A simple alternative to traditional textbook purchasing does not come without its opposition. For textbook rental services, publishers remain concerned about their financial status as a result of such programs, as many services of this sort do not give any portion of their rental revenue to the publishers of the titles rented, including textbookrental.ca.

Collen O’Neill from the Canadian Publishers Council, in an interview with Macleans, referred to these rental programs an “administrative nightmare” for publishers in the United States.

For the purposes of students, textbook rental services tend to be fairly successful, another service operating in Canada, biblio.com proved to be helpful for Stena Sothiratnam, a first year Masters in Global Health Student at McMaster who was able to find the textbooks she needed at a much lower cost than the traditional bookstore. “I’ve used biblio.com and textbooks are so much cheaper,” she said.

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