Nunavut’s student funding isn’t enough to live on, out-of-territory students say

FANS is reviewing its living allowance, which hasn’t change in over a decade

Delilah Amarualik, a first-year student at Nunavut Sivuniksavut, and her two-year daughter Athena. (Photo courtesy of Dayna Bruce)

By Dayna Bruce and Nunatsiaq News

Nunatsiaq News partnered with Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa this past winter to deliver a journalism workshop to a group of first- and second-year students. Some of our reporters and editors spent Wednesday afternoons working with three students, who pitched and reported their own news and feature stories.

Dayna Bruce is a first-year student at Nunavut Sivuniksavut. (Submitted photo)

It can be hard to make ends meet when you’re a post-secondary student from Nunavut, studying in southern Canada.

Delilah Amarualik knows that struggle. Originally from Pond Inlet, Amarualik is a first-year student at Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa. She’s also the single mother of a two-year-old daughter.

Like most post-secondary students, Amarualik relies on funding through the Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students (FANS) program, administered by the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Family Services.

Amarualik receives a $1,600-per-month living allowance through the program. But after she pays her $750 monthly rent, food and phone bill, she says she often doesn’t have enough to make it through until the end of the month.

“After I get paid from FANS, I ask my family for money most times,” Amarualik said.

“I had a really hard time the first semester,” she said. “I called FANS and they couldn’t put [my monthly allowance] higher.”

Following the Christmas holidays, Amarualik found herself so cash-poor she didn’t have enough money for groceries.

In early January, Amarualik posted on Facebook, asking for family and friends for help to get diapers for her toddler.

FANS program statistics for 2018-19. (Data courtesy of FANS)

Over the 2018-2019 academic year, FANS received applications from every Nunavut community except for Grise Fiord.

There are roughly 480 Nunavummiut students who will use FANS’ $7 million annual grant budget this year.

As of April 2019, 47 of those are enrolled in Nunavut Sivuniksavut. FANS will spend more than $850,000 on NS students’ funding this year.

FANS’ basic grant covers tuition fees up to $6,855 a year, plus a base living allowance of $1,092. It offers up to $2,600 a month for students with dependents or other special needs.

Even students without dependents say that the living allowance is hardly enough to get by on each month, let alone have any spending money for weekend outings or a meal out.

Many post-secondary students from Nunavut relocate to southern cities to pursue their studies, but say they don’t have the budget to fully enjoy that experience.

In some cases, students can take on part-time work to supplement their income, though by no more than $900 a month if they want to remain eligible for FANS.

Nunavut Sivuniksavut asks its students not to work, however, so they can focus on their studies and the cultural performance aspect of the program.

FANS administrators acknowledge that its living allowance hasn’t increased in about a decade, and hasn’t been able to keep up with the cost of living in most Canadian cities where Nunavut students move to study.

But that could change soon.

Nunavut Sivuniksavut students Leanna Wilson and Dayna Bruce and Nunatsiaq News reporter Sarah Rogers interview Rob Clift, director of career development at Nunavut’s Department of Family Services, which oversees FANS. (Photo by Kahlan Miron)

Rob Clift, the director of career development at Nunavut’s Department of Family Services, which oversees FANS, said the program is currently under review.

“We all know it needs to be improved,” Clift said.

“If you want people to be able to concentrate on their studies, you have to give them enough money, so they don’t have to worry about rent and food and other things,” he said.

The department is putting together a business case and will make recommendations to the legislative assembly this summer—one of which will be to increase students’ monthly allowances.

“The biggest challenge is the support we provide to students,” Clift said. “It’s not reasonable to assume that students from Nunavut have access to additional resources in the same way as students from the south does. It’s just not like that.”

If it’s approved, Clift hopes that increased allowance will be in place for September 2020.

“This is a way for the territory to build the professional workforce that it needs,” he said. “It’s often not thought of, ‘This is actually part of the Nunavut project.’”

This article does not represent the opinions of Nunavut Sivuniksavut.

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(54) Comments:

  1. Posted by School days on

    When I went to university, like many others, I would work and save up for school. I even took breaks from classes to do this at times. This was considered a normal practice as student loans did not cover all the costs of living. I bet most students across this country who rely on loans would report the same.

    • Posted by From the South on

      Yes, that was a common experience for people who lived and studied in the South. The conditions in the North are considerably different.

      • Posted by OpALoomPA on

        Yes, that’s true, but these students are also studying in the south. I wonder what you are getting at?

        • Posted by From the South on

          People who grew up in the South have lots of hidden, and not so hidden, advantages when it comes to successfully completing a post-secondary education compared to people who grew up in the North. Just because a Northerner and a Southerner attend the same Southern institution doesn’t mean they have the same chance of success.

          • Posted by Reality on

            Don’t assume the “southerner” has more money. They are usually more skilled at punctuality, deadlines, study skills, and persistence after failure, due to it being ingrained from early childhood, but they don’t have all the financial advantages. Southerners often do better at school because they DO have to work for it to pay for it. It makes them more committed to choosing a relevant program and completing it, because they need it to get a job and pay off the school loans.

            • Posted by Israel McArthur on

              That was my experience with Inuit students in Ottawa schools, it wasn’t necessarily that they had greater financial hardship than other students – some did and some didn’t; some were veritably rolling in cash compared to other students.

              It was the soft skills that the Nunavut school system and life in Nunavut hadn’t equipped them with. I have no idea at all how to improve this on the timeline that the territory needs, the changes that are needed in the students/families/territory are generational and won’t’ happen overnight.

            • Posted by From the South on

              Did I say more money? No, I said advantages. Like the ones you listed, cultural norms, ingrained from an early age that are necessary to succeed in post-secondary education. You can’t simply give those advantages to a Nunavummiut student. What you can do is reduce the stress around how they are going to pay for post-secondary education so they can concentrate on developing the necessary skills to succeed. Rather difficult to do that if you are worrying about your next meal is coming from.

          • Posted by School days on

            They aren’t attending the same institution though. NS seems to be something close to a college / university prep program. I can’t think of anything comparable, maybe you can? I’d also like to hear more about what some of these hidden advantages are?

            • Posted by Israel McArthur on

              True, NS is not a university by any stretch, but many of the soft skills that the students learn will help fill in some of the gaps from their Nunavut experience, but this takes time. After completing NS most students should have what I consider to be the minimum skills for university success. A university prep or bridge programme is a good description.

            • Posted by Supersam on

              It is very difficult to study away from home, as a single parent the biggest disadvantage I can come up with is lack of childcare, when you have no choice but to move to a city where you don’t know anyone (and crime rates are insanely high particularly towards aboriginal women) that’s a stress no one can make easier. If you have young children you may even have to take another dependent to ensure you won’t be missing school (additional costs). Once you have child care you have culture shock to deal with; not just for yourself (the student), but your children as well will have to adjust to a whole new life while trying to go to school, pay for it all and remain determined enough to see it though. If anything happens while your away from school (relative dies?) it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to attend the funeral; but you won’t be able to, more stress. On top of all that they cope with discrimination; it’s difficult for aboriginals to get an appointment; some never had rental history (major housing shortages in the north) so it’s even harder finding a place. There are so many factors to consider, I could do this all day.

  2. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    Summer jobs can be hard to come by for Northern students especially in the smaller communities. Parents can send them some money while they are in school but probably not a lot as most parents at home are probably struggling to get by themselves with the ridiculous cost of living in Nunavut. Southern students can easily get summer jobs to save up money for the time they are in school. Fast food joints and retail stores are usually short on staff so the summer student market is something they depend on. It is about time the living allowance was increased. The students don’t need to be living on the Ramen noodle diet 10 months of the year to get an education.

    • Posted by Work ethic on

      Jobs are easy to come by in Nunavut as most of the work force is so utterly unreliable. Even a job at the Coop pays substantially more than those fast food joints you mentioned.

      • Posted by Crystal Clarity on

        The cost of living has gone up 19.51% over the last 10 years so it is only reasonable that the living allowance for FANS clients should go up by at least that much if not more since another 10 years could go by before it gets topped up again.

        The annual rise in the cost of living is about 2.2% so maybe it would make sense to factor that in annually?

  3. Posted by Reality on

    I could live on $1600 a month in Ottawa. You can always get a part-time job if you want to have more luxuries. You pay $750 in rent, that leaves $850 for food and other essentials, that is extremely generous! Most adults need to fund their own education after high school through either jobs or loans (that have to be paid back from future earnings), and they pay their own tuition and travel, as well, which is also covered for you. Sorry, but you are already being very well looked after. Make it stretch, or get a part-time job to pay for the luxuries.

    • Posted by Reality Check on

      Have you ever joined Nunavut Sivuniksavut? Do you know the facts on if they get that much money per person or per group with roommates?

      • Posted by Reality on

        The information is right there in the article, did you read it? They get a generous $1600 living allowance each. And no, I went to university, saved up for it, worked part-time while going, paid my own transportation, tuition, and living expenses. The funding given to these students is already not only adequate, but extremely generous as they don’t have to pay any of it back, it’s not a loan, it’s a gift. No matter how much the taxpayer does though, it’s never enough.

        • Posted by From the South on

          As per my other comment, that’s $1,600 per month for a single parent with one child–not a single, childless student. A single student with no children gets $1,092 per month.

      • Posted by Student on

        We are in reality.
        It’s not easy for a single mother to have part time-job.
        Also, for Nunavut Sivuniksavut. We have to pay something that goes with missing school days, being late and other things.

        • Posted by Israel McArthur on

          This touches on another issue in Nunavut, the absolutely huge number of children not from traditional, two-parent families. Not only do these children statistically have poorer lifelong outcomes, parents, particularly mothers, suffer.

          Student aid is not set-up for for child support, perhaps it should be, but that is a different conversation. Some would say that the student aid system has no business paying for child care, and that that is a parental/family responsibility.

          • Posted by From the South on

            The student aid system does not pay for childcare. Students get a living allowance to cover expenses for themselves and their dependents. If they choose to use some of that money to pay for childcare costs, that is their decision. But, if they don’t have other financial resources they don’t really have a choice.

            • Posted by Israel McArthur on

              They made the choice to have a child rather than waiting until after they were done their schooling, so yes, they did make a choice. A choice many would see as irresponsible and short-sighted, but definitely a choice.

    • Posted by From the South on

      That $850 per month also has to cover all the expenses for her child, including childcare. That’s about the same as a single parent would get on income assistance in Nunavut.

      As for single students without dependents, the amount is $1092 per month. After deducting rent of $750, that’s $342 for every other expense. That’s less than a single person would get on income assistance.

  4. Posted by Kaptain Kurious on

    These numbers don’t sound that bad actually, the cost of living in Ottawa is surely lower than in most Nunavut communities? Maybe there needs to be some budgeting work done with students?

  5. Posted by All Students on

    All students across Canada experience the hardships of going to school. That’s why everyone says “Just a poor student”. I personally got a job at A&W flipping burgers and worked some hours to get by in addition to student loans that were paid back. Unfortunately I did not have access to FANS or similar program. I did get through though even if it meant making sacrifices and living off KD, Ravioli and sandwiches.

  6. Posted by emuse on

    Comments seem to mostly be saying that the students need to suck it up and make it work because all post secondary students go through financial hardship. But as stated in this article, FANS funding has not increased in over 10 years. But the cost of living all across Canada has certainly increased in that time span, as have tuition fees. When I was a university student, tuition fees were increased 3 times. The amount of funding that FANS provided for books and materials per semester would barely cover the cost of 1 book. As a student, you are not going to be living a life of luxury, and I’m not suggesting that everything should be covered, but FANS funding for students should be reviewed regularly to see if the amount covered is reflective of and comparative to the realities faced by students.

  7. Posted by Support our students on

    The comments on this article are out of touch with the situation in Nunavut.

    It’s not fair and does not make sense to compare the experience of students in the south to students in the north. The realities are different and incomparable.

    Also, Ottawa is not a cheap place to live. Especially for students who have children. Still, it is in Nunavu’t interest to educate and train homegrown students who will stay in the North than transient workers who will leave, although not all do. But many people do not say in Nunavut for longer than 2-5 years.

    -provincial loan programs for post secondary provide more funding that FANS does. Some of these programs also provide grants depending on students’ and their parents’ incomes.

    -Many students studying in the south are able to still live with their family.

    -nunavut students can’t live with family and often are not able to get monetary support from parents who are already burdened with the high cost of living

    -nunavut students are often less prepated for post-secondary than southern students because of the struggling education system. they have to work hard to adjust when they go to university/college

    -northern students lose their community support when they have to move south, many of them struggle with homesickness and being in a city far from home for the first time. this adds a burden of stress on their mental health.

    we need to set up students for success and not to fail. Our young people are our future and we should not be sending them south without adequate support.

    • Posted by Bbff on

      Well said support our students they are our future and worth every dollar of investment!

  8. Posted by Sarah on

    Try being uprooted from your small community to attend high school because your community is too small to have a high school (back in the day).
    What would this single mother be doing if she lived in nunavut where the cost of living is much higher?
    You are lucky to even be getting this FANS money.
    Get a part time job just like any other college/university student has to/had to.
    Nunavumiut always looking for hand outs no wonder we are so behind in every aspect in life…

    • Posted by From the South on

      Supporting Nunavummiut to get the necessary education and skills so they can fill existing job vacancies in the GN and take up new opportunities in the non-governmental and private sectors is a very worthwhile investment — not a handout.

  9. Posted by Inuk Person on

    I went to university. I always felt lucky for getting funding to go to school when other students had to work part-time and have hefty student loans on top of that. I also went to college [down south] and took a part-time program. FANS and other funding agencies do not provide funding for part-time students, so I had to pay the tuition fee/living expenses on my own.
    I knew full well that if I get my education, I can have a good job back in my home territory, so it was a good investment for me in the long run. Work hard and complete your studies so that you can have a good job, even if it’s hard right now, think about what you can do in the future! Many [high paying] jobs in Nunavut have a high priority for hiring Nunavut beneficiary Inuit. If you have a good education, there’s a good chance that you’ll get a good paying job.
    ‘Suffering should be creative, it should give birth to something good and lovely’ – Unknown

  10. Posted by Tommy on

    FANS is reliable and should be updated, it make students succeed, and it should continue.

    It is hard being a student. It is suppose to be as it is a life lesson. Nothing is easy in this world.

    Nunavutmiut need to learn to stretch the dollar. I can survive for $5.80/day (to a cent). Cup of soup now, T-bone steak later.

  11. Posted by Experience on

    I first moved down to Ottawa for school and with FANS i barely even made it. I worked as a summer student back home and saved enough to last me a few months of rent without worrying about getting behind. Not many people have the luxury of being able to get money from their family for help. How can you get a job if your studies are intense? You cant explain to me that its expected for us students to be working when we arent at school. NS schedule is every day of the week, sometimes on weekends for performances. Hard to get a job, plus its an eight month program that has advance educational resources NUNAVUT doesnt even have. I was living on my own, with just FANS and no other funding. If it wasnt for the summer job i would have barely made it. Prices rise everyday at the store more than people realize it. Not to mention, laundry prices. You can go to a laundry matt and spend 5$ at least for the washer (which is tiny) and barely enough for the use of the drier. If you havent been a student in the past five years, dont comment about this issue. Can i mention how some of us struggle with booking our flights back home with FANS? One time they didnt even pay for the ticket when i booked it a month ahead of time. They paid it when the check in time was closed. Trust me, we arent “”bitching” because we dont have enough money to do things for ourselves. We are “bitching” because this funding is a serious joke, the whole thing is a joke. Also the fact that even a person with no kids, no addiction to cigarettes, booze or drugs still struggles with the funding.

    • Posted by Reality on

      You’re not understanding that non-inuit students also have difficult programs (many much more difficult, if they are studying for a profession and not the cultural studies that NS focuses on), and also need to pay their bills, AND they do it without ANY government money most of the time, other than loans (that have to be paid back). School SHOULD be hard, and figuring out how to budget and prioritize your needs is part of the experience. Non-inuit also leave home for school, it’s not a special problem just reserved for folks from Nunavut.

      • Posted by Experience on

        Oh boohoo. Turn this problem to something else. Clearly you don’t know the reality of everything just what you expect.

      • Posted by From the South on

        Way to minimize what Inuit students are try to achieve “Reality”. While this article focuses on NS students, Nunavummiut have gone South and even internationally to pursue studies in every major academic field. Let’s not forget the Law program in Iqaluit. Many of the students there also rely on FANS.

        And to hold they view that achieving an education should be “hard” is simply puritanical nonsense. Education should be challenging, that develops one’s mind and character. But to assert that students have to live in hovels, eat the cheapest ramen noodles, and suffer sleep deprivation from working a full-time job in addition to studying full-time to make their education meaningful is ridiculous.

  12. Posted by Putuguk on

    The average Canadian post secondary graduate is left with around $26,000 in student debt as a result of personally financing their higher education. At the same time, Canada has 53% of the total national population that has attained a “tertiary” education, highest among comparable countries.

    In the south, the burden of higher education is borne by the individual as it is relatively less important to the country as a whole that a particular individual be well educated. The benefits of a post secondary education in southern Canada are well established and society will not collapse if a fewer less Canadians go to college.

    This is not the way it is in Nunavut. We have very, very few residents that have attained a “tertiary” education. It is therefore much more important to Nunavut society, for the well being of the territory, that post secondary education be publicly supported.

    The equity argument is besides the point. The higher costs in the north also. We have too few grads and we need more. That is all that matters on this issue.

    Yes, Nunavut students get it better than anyone else. Sure we have higher costs, but so what?

    The point is they should be given more, as much as we can possibly afford. It should be so overwhelmingly beneficial for Nunavut youth, who may not see college as a priority, to continue their schooling. In fact, they should feel foolish not to go on after high school. And of course, its no use educating the foolish so worrying about them is pointless.

    Increase FANS already. Nunavut students, hold your heads high. You are doing what we deeply wish you would do. It is good for your future, and it essential for the future of your home. If others do not get what you get, tell them to vote in a different provincial government that will promise more.

  13. Posted by westwaterwolf on

    Is there any way for private citizens help support these students?

    • Posted by Supersam on

      Paying taxes and asking our government to direct public funds towards our goals. Just like every other Canadian province and territory

  14. Posted by Simone on

    It is expensive living in Ottawa with a child. Give the NU students a raise to help them along in their lives & studies. They succeed and prosper & Nunavut as a whole benefits. All post secondary students in Canada should receive generous student funding assistance. Students succeed Canada benefits immensely!

  15. Posted by Northern Guy on

    I was able to successfully complete a graduate degree and house, feed and clothe a family of four on what we had in our savings when I started school and the support of FANS. Admittedly my university was not located in Ottawa so the cost of living was somewhat lower however we made it work. It required sacrifice (all clothes were bought second-hand, we had one cell phone with a minimal talk-text plan and no data and no internet or cable) we also had to stick to a very strict budget regarding food and entertainment however it was doable.

  16. Posted by Former Student on

    Perhaps high school should have a Home Economics course where students learn to prepare nutritious meals, learn to shop effectively, learn to budget.

    Perhaps selecting a college or university program should not be a solitary task. Perhaps students should go with friends. A two-bedroom apartment costs less than two one-bedroom apartments. It takes only slightly longer to cook for two people than it does for one person. So two students sharing an apartment can save time by splitting the cooking duties. Three students sharing a three bedroom apartment makes even more sense. If your apartment does not have its own washer/dryer, you can wash socks and underwear in a sink every day. Many, many ways to save money.

    If you intend to go to college/university your preparation should include freeing yourself of any addictions you have acquired. You don’t need them. You cannot afford them. Your life will be better without them. No cigarettes. No booze. No lottery tickets. No pop. No bars. No chips. But do budget for a few luxuries.

    How to do that? Spend two months out on the land. Whatever you brought with you will be long gone before your two months are up. You will find that you can live without them.

  17. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    What are we trying to achieve here?

    If the goal is to educate Inuit to a post secondary level, and have them return to the territory and assume more senior positions, or start their own businesses, then any financial assistance is well worth the cost.

    Simply change the FANS program to be a forgivable loan. When you complete your studies return to Nunavut and for each calendar quarter of gainful employment you deduct 5% from the “loan” so in 5 years your “loan” is paid off. Allow a maximum of two quarters to be skipped in a single year, with a maximum of four quarters that can be skipped in six years to allow for a change of job or two. If you use up the grace periods then the loan kicks in and must be repaid in currency. Otherwise you are paying for the loan by being employed and hopefully using that higher education.

    As for the amount of the “loan”, a single person at $1092 sounds light to me but you do need a really good list of expenses to see if it is enough. I’m assuming shared accommodations and some other living expenses, some cooking but mostly fast foods, bus transportation, some recreation, it can all add up pretty fast.

    As a single adult I would think $1500 a month, but that’s a guesstimate. It does however have to be enough that the student can concentrate on their studies and not have to work part time. Kids from Nunavut have enough disadvantages.

  18. Posted by Richard Tuktu on

    This is not a university. It’s a cultural extension, promulgated to increase Inuit awareness of their own cultural. Look at the course outline. Do you see “advance of western civilization’. Hardly. All paid for the Fed transfers. So what. Better than advanced hair dressing at NAC,

    • Posted by Israel McArthur on

      You’ve hit on a great point, while NS certainly has value imparting cultural heritage and self-respect, and provides great foundational training for later academic success, it isn’t a professional training institution creating the future engineers, scientists, accountants, and medical staff that the territory needs.

    • Posted by From the South on

      NS is an example of an out-of-territory post-secondary program. There are many other out-of-territory programs Nunavummiut are taking as indicated in the table in the article.

  19. Posted by OnlineStudent on

    Athabasca University is completely online, you can work and go to school at the same time and take classes as your budget allows. Problem solved.

    • Posted by Israel McArthur on

      Some day in the next 2-3 years that might be an option, but sadly, in the communities the internet infrastructure just doesn’t work well enough for this option.

  20. Posted by Steve on

    My wife went to University in the 1990’s we had 2 kids under 6, had to pay school, rent, daycare, we did all this with 16 000$ loans from the government. That’s 4 years of University, do the maths, that’s only 4 000$ per year in loans. I worked full time at 14$/hour and worked overtime when ever I could, my wife worked weekends, we made many sacrifices to be able to do it.

    So, the lesson we learned and taught are kids, work, work real hard to achieve you goals. If you fail, try harder and try again.

    • Posted by From the South on

      $4,000 won’t even pay the tuition fees at most Southern institutions these days and the minimum wage in Canada is $15 or less. Your experience from 20+ years ago isn’t very helpful in defining what’s needed or possible today.

      • Posted by Steve on

        True, it was 20 years ago and minium wage was around 7$/hour.

        But our experience is still true today. it was true in the 1990’s and still true today for all students from anywhere, getting your education will probably not be easy, a lot of efforts will be needed but the efforts will be well rewarded at the end.

        Of course I wish things would be easier with FANS and more money was made available to students going down south…

  21. Posted by Salty on

    I mean lots of good points, but let’s call A spade a spade. If one is given an easy road, they’ll not be able to handle the bumps in the road, aka, life. Not to say that having sponsorship is setting students up for failure, many do well with having that kind of support, but I think sponsorship, with a disrespectful approach, and lack of appreciation adds to the reason inuit are not successful in secondary schools. It’s a matter of respect for your support.

  22. Posted by Enough on

    FANS helped me get through college. My family got through as my spouse worked. We did not struggle. People need to stop being so depend on handouts. We are owed nothing!
    NS is more of an Advanced High School program. If you had the luxury of going to High School with advanced subjects; it is like going back to HS. They need to update their courses and be creative by coming up with new performances. It’s been same old for too long.

  23. Posted by Karl on

    The Nunavut Government should look at how Scandinavia give students funding for schools, the funding and support the Scandinavian country’s give their students is second to none.
    It’s a shame that a student has to spend so much time and effort to try and pay for their education and living instead of giving more time to their studies, when you give so much time and effort to pay for your education this influents you on how and what you will study.
    The Scandinavians figured this out a long time ago, it’s a model for other countries to follow.

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