The New Brunswick Student Alliance said the New Brunswick government is unwilling to prioritize the needs of students after they tabled the 2020-21 budget with little mention of students on March 10. It was later passed on March 13.
Executive director of the NBSA Kjeld-Mizpah Conyers-Steede said after a year of government meetings, advocacy work and student connections, he was hoping for more student support in the budget.
“Right now, post-secondary education kind of looks like an ivory tower where only the middle class get a post-secondary education, but that’s not the case.”
The 2020-21 budget includes a 2.5 per cent decrease to interest rates on student loans and has no cuts towards post-secondary education funding.
Minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, Trevor Holder, said while he doesn’t have a mandate from the government, it is his intention to eliminate student loan interest altogether in the coming years.
He said the FutureReadyNB investments are still in place, and that the government has made significant investments in improving mental health. The budget allocated $3 million to mental health services across the province. There are no other mention of funds for post-secondary students.
“Student union leaders have raised the issue of mental health with me on numerous occasions, and I’m very proud of the fact that our government has made some very significant investments in mental health strategies,” said Holder.
St. Thomas University Students’ Union’s vice-president education Ailish Mackenzie-Foley said the decrease still isn’t enough to bring New Brunswick student debt below the national average.
As of 2010, the average student loan debt in Canada was around $20,000. In New Brunswick, it’s almost $40,000.
She said NBSA’s Advocacy Week in November left her feeling hopeful for what the budget would be.
Advocacy Week brings provincial student unions and the NBSA together to meet with different members of the government to advocate for the needs of students across New Brunswick.
“We met with MLAs, stakeholders, a whole bunch of people and everyone was really receptive towards us, which made us really hopeful,” said MacKenzie-Foley
Their three main requests to the government revolved around international students, Indigenization and student financial aid.
Some requests included creating a fund to help support reconciliation on campus, regulating international tuition fees and creating non-repayable need-based grants.
Mackenzie-Foley said some of their requests are low cost and only revolve around support. One example would be for employees in the department of post-secondary education, training and labour to participate in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise. The exercise is an interactive tool used to teach about the history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. She hopes those kinds of supports can be put in place going forward.
“We are hoping to see within the next few months, if not financial support, just support for students or anything like that.”
Conyers-Steede said listening to the stories of students who are struggling has been hard on him, but himself and the NBSA will continue advocating for students and never give up.
“Hearing what students are saying about what they have to do to pay tuition, and what’s happening in the universities, really breaks my heart.”
He wants to encourage students to reach out and share their concerns and stories to help guide the NBSA.
He recommends sending them an email or reaching out on social media.
“We are an ally as an organization, and the more people are engaging with us, the more people who are showcasing what the NBSA is doing the better we can advocate for students in the province.”