‘We are failing young Canadians’: CIBC's Tal on COVID-19 and education
Last week, the federal government unveiled a $9-billion aid package to help post-secondary students get through the COVID-19 pandemic, as the outlook for the Canadian economy and job market remains bleak.
The financial support includes the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) program for students who have lost job opportunities and cannot find work this summer. There will also be a large amount – $75.2-million – allocated to Indigenous students.
The federal government is also boosting its grant program for both full-time and part-time students, as well as launching the Canada Student Service Grant. This initiative is meant to encourage students to volunteer in their communities to help with the fight against COVID-19. In turn, these students will be eligible for monthly payments of up to $5,000 to help with education costs.
While many see these measures as a helpful start, some experts say it doesn’t go far enough.
In an April 23 BNN Bloomberg interview, CIBC’s Deputy Chief Economist Benjamin Tal said the labour market will likely be challenging for young people for at least two or three years.
"This is not a good environment in which you want to start your career in," he said.
Tal also said the current education system needs to evolve in order for post-secondary students to be more prepared for the changing economy and job market.
"I think that as a society, we are failing young Canadians.”
Below, students share their reaction to the government’s new aid package with BNN Bloomberg. All interviews were conducted via email.
VANESSA HILL, 21
Vanessa Hill is in her third year at Western University, and as someone who is solely responsible for paying her tuition and living expenses, she is very concerned about securing a job this summer and having enough money to continue her studies in the fall.
"I have not yet received a response or any contact from my employer who I have worked with over the past two summers, and as of right now, I have no idea if I will have this job or any job for the summer," she said.
Hill says that she will take advantage of the measures that she is eligible for as the job search continues to be very difficult, and does believe that they could help reduce the stress for many. But she is not completely satisfied.
"Even with these benefits, or working full-time before the pandemic, finances were always tight for someone who pays for 90 per cent of all their own expenses," she said.
If Hill does not have enough income by the end of the summer, she is worried that this could disrupt her focus on pursuing education because she will likely have to take out more loans and pick up more hours at the campus job she has during the year.
TOMASZ GLOD, 20
University of Toronto political science student Tomasz Glod said he wants more clarity around eligibility, and how various benefits being offered by the federal government will actually be delivered.
"The words ‘grant’ and ‘benefit’ could be interpreted to mean the same thing, [and] the ways in which they are going to be delivered to students is important for them to be able to properly plan of the summer," he said.
After reading up on all the of the financial support options currently available to Canadians, Glod said he realizes that he may not be eligible for the CESB, but is hoping to take advantage of the grant opportunities the federal government has announced.
"The Canada Student Service Grant is what intrigues me the most, with the prospects of assisting Canada and my community with the troubles that have arisen as a result of the pandemic," he said.
One thing he would like to see is a push from the federal government to have post-secondary institutions reduce student fees, considering many services students pay for are not in use and will not be in use during the summer.
JASDEEP GILL, 23
Jasdeep Gill is an international business student at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who is especially pleased with the increased funding to the Canada Student Grants program and the creation of the Canada Student Service Grant.
"I am very happy to see that the government is investing more in grants rather than loans, which simply add to the mounting problem of student debt," said Gill.
She plans to apply for these grants to finish off her final semester in school.
As a member of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), which represents over 26,000 undergraduate students at the university, Gill interacts with her diverse student body regularly. Her concern with the federal government’s measures to help youth thus far is the lack of support for international students, as they aren’t eligible for the CESB nor the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The average tuition cost for international students in Canada is close to $30,000 a year, according to Statistics Canada.
“International students contribute billions of dollars to the Canadian economy every year. They choose to study in Canada for our global reputation and standard of living and we cannot abandon them during this crisis," she said.
DANTE GALEA, 21
Twenty-one-year-old Ryerson University journalism student Dante Galea sees the federal government’s aid package as very beneficial for students like him who lost summer job opportunities as a result of the pandemic.
"When the pandemic was initially making waves, I had a job lined up to work as a clerk over the summer to make money in order to pay for my fourth year of school. But I lost the opportunity as the company I was talking to was no longer offering the position due to the circumstances," he said.
Galea, who was initially frustrated about not being eligible for the CERB despite already feeling the financial impact of COVID-19, intends to apply for CESB.
"I don’t have much money saved up, and I still have costs like renting a truck to move out of my apartment. And I am also writing my LSAT this summer, so this will help me afford books, classes and the test itself," Galea said.
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