Leaders strategize year to come

By Emily Macphail

Student politicians met last month to develop strategies to improve the student experience for the 2012–13 year.
Over 30 student government leaders from 25 Canadian post-secondary institutions, including the University of Calgary Students’ Union president Hardave Birk and vice-president external 
Raphael Jacob, convened at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick for the Policy and Strategy 2012 conference of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations from July 18–20.

CASA is a student advocacy group that represents student associations throughout Canada and implements strategies in the interest of students.

The aim of the annual conference is to take the many ideas submitted by members, define them and transform them into a framework of what the group’s focuses for the year will be.

This conference builds the framework for the strategies and decisions for the year.

Both Birk and Jacob are involved with CASA committees, with Birk on the Policy Committee and Jacob part of the National Lobby Team.

According to Birk, the planning and strategy conference is the first of three held by CASA every year. In November, there will be a lobby conference, where members of CASA meet with politicians and Members of Parliament, and there is a year-end review in March.

“It’s good to set our policies and goals for the year. This is the first conference of the three, and it is the most important because we get our strategies and goals in place,” said Birk. “It was a good time.”

The group decides on 24 priorities which include changes to student loan policies, copyright and government relations. Strategies to carry these priorities forward are then developed.

This year’s conference agenda focused on improving the quality and accessibility of post-secondary education. The current advocacy priorities that were put in place for this year include modernization of the Canada Student Loans Program, decreased barriers to post-secondary education and increased student protection around academic materials.

The proposed changes to the loans program involve the removal of in-study income and a single vehicle from the assets used to assess borrower resources.

“For example, if you have a part-time job and are working during the year, or you have an internship and get an honorarium, this isn’t counted towards your assessed assets because it’s in-study,” said Jacob.

In terms of removing educational barriers, support for increased funding for the Post-Secondary Student Support Program — a program which helps financially support First Nations and Inuit students — is on the agenda. Providing international students with quicker and easier access to work visas and multiple-entry study visas is also a main portion of the agenda.

CASA would additionally like to see alterations to Tri-Agency, the federal granting council and financial administration organization, to better protect the intellectual property rights of students and provide more respect for student research.

Jacob is hopeful about the lobby conference in November. He spoke specifically about student loan changes in Alberta.

“In terms of the provincial [government], we’ve seen changes to the student loans program, so perhaps the time is right for the federal government too,” said Jacob.

As a part of the federal government’s 2013 pre-budget consultations, CASA will be putting their recommendations forward to the House of Commons.

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