On February 16, 2016, CASA's Chair Erik Queenan presented student priorities to the federal government's Committee on Finance as part of their 2016 pre-budget consultations.
View the recorded video and/or read the full transcript of the presentation below.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, committee members, fellow witnesses, and members of the gallery.
My name is Erik Queenan, and I'm the chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the president of the Students' Association of Mount Royal University in Calgary. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak before this committee on behalf of CASA and our 21 member associations representing over 250,000 students across Canada.
CASA has worked closely with this committee in the past by presenting on issues pertaining to post-secondary education. Recent examples include unpaid internships and youth employment. We look forward to continuing this collaborative relationship.
I want to begin by broadly discussing CASA's approach to advocacy, which is rooted in evidence-based research and is driven by the work of our student members. Our organization works on the principle of creating a post-secondary education system that is accessible, affordable, innovative, and of the highest quality. We believe we have a significant role to play in addressing the inequities that exist in our post-secondary system, primarily by ensuring that groups that have been traditionally under-represented are able to gain access to an education. We strongly believe that progressive public policy addresses these imbalances by recognizing that different students have different needs.
CASA is also cognizant of the financial realities of this country and the budgetary constraints that all governments face. Investment in higher education is necessary, but we must prioritize those areas that will have the greatest impact. That is why we strive to provide policy options that are cost effective and deliver the greatest impact upon investment.
Moving into our budget priorities for the year, CASA recommends the government increase the value of the Canada student grant program by 50% and expand eligibility to graduate and doctoral students. This would build on the past success of the CSGP in ensuring that Canadians from more backgrounds can access post-secondary education. Through the CSGP the federal government provided over 320,000 college and undergraduate students with non-repayable, upfront grants. The CSGP, introduced in 2009, offers $250 per month to students from low-income households and $100 per month to students from middle-income households.
Grants continue to be extremely effective in promoting accessibility and reducing debt levels. This program is effective and deserves further support through increased funding and expansion to the one group of students that are still excluded, those studying at the graduate level.
Furthermore, CASA calls on the government to deliver on its promises to indigenous students by promoting the post-secondary student support program, or PSSSP. This means removing the 2% annual cap that has constrained the program from reaching the number of indigenous students who'd otherwise be attending post-secondary education. Closing the education gap for indigenous populations is an important step in reconciliation and must be a national priority for this government. As a country we not only have a legal obligation in addressing these issues, but a moral one as well.
Lastly CASA is calling on the government to increase the Canada student loans program's weekly limit from $210 to $245. Student loans assist more than 470,000 students every year, but this limit has not been updated since 2004, which has left students struggling to afford their education. At the moment it is estimated that nearly 41% of Canadian student loan borrowers have financial needs that exceed the funding available, and that figure is going to continue to grow every year that low limits are not increased.
Faced with this funding shortfall, students must deal with troubling alternatives. Some students turn to private loans where they face high interest rates and little repayment flexibility. Others turn toward their families who must often sacrifice their own financial stability.
In a poll conducted by Abacas Data, CASA found that one-third of Canadian PSE families reported taking funds out of their retirement savings in order to afford their children's education, while another 14% went as far as remortgaging their homes. The cost of education is no longer just a student issue, but an issue for Canada's middle-class families as well.
Our brief, which has been submitted, captures the rest of our priorities, including a reinvestment in research, a call for investment in experiential learning, and an increase to the repayment assistance plan income threshold. These asks have been fully costed, and we believe they can be met within the current fiscal environment.
CASA appreciates the opportunity to work alongside this committee in a positive and collaborative manner. We've provided this committee with a broad spectrum of sensible and transformative policy recommendations that will positively impact students across this country and Canada's economy, now and into the future.
Thank you very much and I look forward to your questions."