On September 20, 2017, Chair of CASA's Board of Directors, Shifrah Gadamsetti, presented student issues to the Committee on Finance during their 2018 pre-budget consultations.
Full transcription of the presentation is available below. For more information on the asks presented, consult CASA's 2018 Pre-Budget Submission.
"Good evening, Mr. Chair, esteemed committee members, fellow witnesses, and members of the gallery.
My name is Shifrah Gadamsetti and I am the president of the student association at Mount Royal University. I am also the board chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, CASA.
On behalf of CASA's 22 student members, representing over 250,000 students attending post-secondary schools in Canada, I thank you for the opportunity to present our pre-budget priorities today. We know that a productive and competitive economy depends on a highly educated workforce. This is why students must be kept a priority when considering the future of Canada's economy.
To ensure that students maximize their potential during and beyond their studies, we believe the government must provide support through three main pillars: ensuring that students are able to succeed through their education; encouraging student contributions to research and innovation; and facilitating a smooth transition to the workforce.
To begin, student success depends on affordable, yet high-quality textbook options that help them get the most out of their education. Unfortunately, the cost of textbooks remains a significant barrier for many, and it is one that isn't always fully covered through financial aid. In response to this issue, provinces like B.C. and Ontario have invested in new technology called “open educational resources”. OERs include freely accessible learning tools such as textbooks, lesson plans, and videos developed by instructors under an open copyright licence. OERs can also be readapted to meet a variety of student needs. Overall, the results have been incredibly positive for students. OERs have saved 40,000 students over $4 million in the last five years. This is why CASA recommends a pilot grant through the tri-agencies to incentivize students and faculty to develop OERs. After all, no student should be prevented from succeeding in their post-secondary education because they cannot afford textbooks.
Succeeding in post-secondary education also means accessing essential mental health accommodations and supports. We know that mental health issues tend to surface during post-secondary education while students are away from family, friends, and a support networks for the first time. Unfortunately, students also struggle against long wait times and significant costs for on- and off-campus support. This includes the cost to obtain a professional assessment often required for academic accommodation. Left unaddressed, mental health problems and illnesses also have an enormous impact on the overall economy.
We recommend that the Canada student loans program provide funding to support the upfront costs of mental health assessments required for academic accommodations. This would ensure that students get the help they need to succeed throughout their education, while building lifelong resiliency.
We would also like to emphasize supporting student research and innovation. Students were encouraged by the significant increases in overall tri-agency research funding in budget 2016. However, the overall proportion of funding dedicated to graduate students remains lower today than it was in 2011. This is why CASA, in partnership with the Student Union of Quebec, asked for new tri-agency funding specifically designated for graduate students. We would also like to see the proportion of graduate research funding return to its 2011 level.
We strongly encourage the use of Canada's Fundamental Science Review, also referred to as the Naylor report , as a blueprint for long-term support of science and research.
The final pillar is aiding effective transition into the workforce. A key strategy for this is to provide students with program-relevant experiential learning opportunities as part of their education. Research has shown that students who do relevant and paid work during their studies are almost twice as likely to get a job upon graduation as those who do not.
While the Canada summer jobs program offers quality work experience, its focus on the summer is too limited. Expanding it to provide year-round part-time jobs better reflects the dynamic experience of a diverse student population. Upon graduation, students want to focus on successfully transitioning into the workforce. However, precarious youth employment and rising interest rates on student loans make this extremely stressful and challenging.
Students with Canada student loans are told that they have a six-month non-repayment period before they have to start repaying their loan after graduation, but they are accumulating interest throughout those six-months. This unfairly burdens new graduates, especially since finding a job often takes at least five months and the average student loan debt is approximately $26,000.
CASA recommends the six-month non-repayment period be made interest-free. This would provide basic relief for new graduates while allowing them to focus on their most important goal—looking for work that will maximize their potential.
In closing, we believe that a highly educated and skilled population can accomplish great things given the right circumstances.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions."