Representing us to the feds

With tuition due last week and other expenses associated with student life, finances are a problem for some. In an office in Ottawa, students’ concerns are represented at the federal level of government by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

"We focus on federal issues with post-secondary education, mostly reforms to student financial aid," explains CASA Government Relations Officer Rob South . "We’re a member-driven organization that represents the interests of 19 member students’ unions, or about 300,000 post-secondary students, to the federal government."

The University of Calgary Students’ Union is a member of CASA. SU Vice-President External Lauren Batiuk explains the role of CASA is to work with students’ union executives to bring about positive national changes.

"Typically a [students’ union] executive’s term only lasts one year, therefore, CASA exists to maintain a constant voice on various issues affecting post-secondary education and to maintain a constant pressure on the federal government," explained Batiuk.

On Wed. Sept. 24, CASA was presented before the House of Commons Finance Committee as part of their ongoing campaign to improve student financial aid. One of their main proposals this year is the introduction of the Canadian Opportunity Grant.

"There is a strong focus in our recommendations this year in getting more money to students in the form of grants," stated South. "This grant program would see low-income students getting their first financial support in the form of a grant, not a loan."

Batiuk supports this initiative.

"It’s an excellent step towards alleviating the debt burden that is placed on students when in a post-secondary institution," she explained.

Among other initiatives, CASA is also advocating for a more realistic assessment of the parental contributions under the Canada Student Loan program. South explained a percentage of parental income is expected to be contributed by parents in the first four years of post-secondary study and this amount is deducted from the loan amount granted to the student.

"The amount of money the government expects parents to contribute is in many cases unrealistic," said South.

As well, CASA proposes to increase loan limits altogether. South maintains there is evidence showing how pressing this priority is.

He points to research showing close to half of students with student loans are borrowing at the loan maximum, which means many students are having trouble getting enough money to meet their costs while at school.

"Because of this, students are taking out private student loans, which are not as good for students, as they charge interest, are not eligible for tax credits, and there are no compassionate measures for repaying these loans," explained South.

Last month, CASA presented to 40 Liberal MPs and senators at the Liberal Summer Caucus Meeting in North Bay. South sees Wednesday’s presentation at the House of Commons as a key part of their ongoing endeavours.

"Over the next few months we’re going to be spending a lot of time with key civil servants in the government," said South. "We have been and will continue to be in good contact with Paul Martin’s office about our proposals. We intend to highlight student financial aid as a priority, to show the deficiencies in our system, the logic of our solutions, and also the political will amongst Canadians."

Batiuk endorses CASA’s efforts, given the recent rise in tuition.

"Tuition increases in the past year have affected students in that it is limiting their accessibility and affordability of post secondary education. CASA’s policies directly battle this issue," said Batiuk. "Action must first occur on the federal government’s end, and then the affects of CASA’s lobbying efforts will trickle down to students on various campuses."

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