Nunavut college students will face more hard times

Nunavut’s Student Financial Assistance program may end up being a little more efficient than the GNWT’s, but it won’t be much more generous.


MONTREAL — For Nunavut’s post-secondary students in the South, many of whom struggle to get by on as little as $7 a day, the Nunavut government’s student financial assistance program isn’t much better than the GNWT’s.

One young woman from Nunavut who was studying in Ottawa lived on a diet of potatoes and rice because she couldn’t afford to buy meat.

And a male student at Iqaluit’s Nunavut Arctic College struggling to support two children and a wife on $1025 a month, shouldn’t expect any financial breaks either.

Only the brightest and best post-secondary students may look forward to getting a little extra help from the Nunavut government.

Nancy Hyland, the Nunavut education department’s director of adult education and post-secondary programs, said the Nunavut government wants to “reinvent” student financial assistance.

But for most students, this won’t mean more money.

Although a committee is now looking at ways of trimming the SFA program’s operational expenses, such as travel, this cost-cutting won’t necessarily lead to increased student assistance, Hyland said.

She said changes will follow an “aggressive timeline,” but that they’ll be phased in gradually.

Two cheques a month

Students have already received streamlined application forms with more information in Inuktitut, a move designed to reduce delays caused by improperly filled-out forms.

Soon, students will also begin to get two cheques a month instead of one. This is supposed to help recipients better budget their money.

The total amount of money that the Nunavut SFA program will provide students will probably stay the same. That is, unless they’re pulling in good grades.

Students who perform well in post-secondary programs may qualify for financial bonuses.

And those who still think SFA is “about taking vacations” could be in for a rude surprise. “SFA is about study,” Hyland said.

Right now, all permanent residents of Nunavut get a basic payment of $675 a month in student financial assistance, as well as help with tuition fees of up to $2550 per term and $200 per term for textbooks over a three-year period.

Nunavut post-secondary students who are beneficiaries of the Nunavut land claim agreement may also apply to Nunavut Tunngavik for bursaries of $2500 per year towards university studies, or $1500 per year towards college programs.

To qualify for this assistance from NTI, students must achieve an average of 65 per cent in high school and maintain an average of 70 per cent at college or university.

Costs exceed grants

And this money has to stretch a long way because it often doesn’t even cover the costs of university tuition.

For example, tuition for at Ottawa’s Carleton University ranges from $3,800 to $4,200 a year and books often cost more than $200 a term.

“I couldn’t afford some of the books,” said another young woman from Nunavut who dropped out of university last year in frustration. “So, I had to photocopy them from a friend.”

Room and board may also gobble up most of the money that students get from the government.

“All of a sudden, we’re scrounging around for money,” said the student [which student?]. “I was thinking, ‘Why did I come down here, anyway?”

Single students living at Iqaluit’s student residence pay $440 per month for room and board, leaving a little over $200 per month for clothes and pocket money, but students in Ottawa or other major centres have to pay at least $300 a month just for a room to live in.

After paying for telephone calls home, bus passes, clothes and other essentials, there’s little left for food.

Students with dependents, in Iqaluit or the South, have to find subsidized housing to survive, and, even then, it’s not easy.

Students who go to Ottawa with their children almost always return home without finishing their programs.

“They get discouraged,” said Mary Hands, who has been counselling post-secondary students at the Tungasuvinngat Inuit community centre for the past three years.

Through the centre, Hands has been assisting around 75 students [over what period] studying and living in the South. Premier Paul Okalik received assistance from the centre to find money for his post-graduate law studies.

Hands’ experience shows post-secondary students from Nunavut need their families to chip in financially, too, and to offer unlimited moral support.

“It’s just so tremendously hard,” said Hands.

Money running out

She helps students find housing and even the basics, like mattresses to sleep on. Tungasuvinggat also organizes recreational activities for students, such as Thanksgiving dinners and regular volleyball sessions on Sunday afternoon.

But the grant from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs and Human Resources Canada that paid for these activities on a three-year, “experimental” basis has ended, and Hands doesn’t feel confident about the program’s renewal,

As this slim support system for post-secondary students falls into jeopardy, programs such as Nuna-Scotia and Nunavut Sivuniksavut are trying to interest more students from Nunavut in pursuing a higher education in the South.

Nuna-Scotia brings graduating high school students from Nunavut to St. Mary’s University in Halifax where they get a three-week introduction to university life and studies.

At Ottawa’s Nunavut Sivuniksavut program, students who have completed high school get a full academic year of preparation before going on to further studies.

Although its participants receive more support than other students in Ottawa, they still grapple with the challenges of surviving on limited means in the South. Access to a few apartments in the Inuit Non-profit Housing in Ottawa has been a key to some Nunavut Sivuniksavut students’ being able to manage.

“I think more support would lead to better results,” said an instructor.

Next year these two programs will start looking around for new sources of funding, too.

That’s when the $39.9 million worth of Nunavut Human Resources Development money stops flowing and the Nunavut government will have to decide where to invest its own limited funds for post-secondary education.

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