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Federal funding cuts threaten students

by Archives March 8, 2006

EDMONTON (CUP) — Denis Remo was born in war-torn southern Sudan, went to high school in a Kenyan refugee camp and is now halfway towards a science degree at the University of Alberta (U of A). However, the student group that funds his education here is facing budget cuts from the federal government and may have trouble sponsoring new students in the future.

World University Services of Canada (WUSC), a national aid organization, has been running their Student Refugee Program (SRP) for almost 30 years, while the U of A branch has sponsored a student like Remo every year since 1988.

Sukaina Hirji, co-chair of the school’s local WUSC committee, explained that at the U of A, a student is brought in to study for four years.

“The program is really unique,” she said. “We try to completely cover living costs of the student in their first year, and we try to help out a little bit with the students for the rest of their degree.

“It’s simple and cost-effective; it’s really cheap and has been really successful. It makes a huge difference to the students who are sponsored.”

Each local WUSC committee is in charge of the in-Canada costs for their students. Sponsored students at the U of A are funded through a combination of a tuition waiver from the University, a grant from the Registrar’s office and a 72-cent dedicated fee from each student’s tuition.

“The University sees [the program] very positively overall,” said assistant registrar Melissa Casey. “It’s an excellent opportunity to offer assistance, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for students in Canada to learn about the world and the issues the refugees are facing.”

Overseas expenses of the SRP used to be covered by WUSC’s national office, through a block grant from the federal government. Recently, though, the government decided to restructure international development funding, and they will no longer provide money for WUSC’s overseas projects. This means that overseas expenses of the program will be transferred to the individual campuses.

“They’re asking us to fundamentally shift the way we see funding for the SRP,” said Hirji.

The extra money WUSC needs amounts to about $5,000 per sponsored student, Hirji explained, and would cover such things as the cost of selecting students and training them before they come to Canada.

“They advertise and encourage high school students to apply,” said Remo, describing his own experiences with WUSC in Kenya. “Hundreds of students apply, because it’s the only chance they’ll have to get postsecondary education. [WUSC] tries to look for the people who really need help, which is funny because everyone in the refugee camp is in need of help.”

Remo went on to say that when he was selected for the program, he underwent three months of career training and coaching before taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language proficiency exam. Later at the University, WUSC volunteers guided his experience.

“They basically organized everything for me,” Remo said. “[The volunteers] literally went with me to class for the first couple of days, showing me where things were. They helped me in a lot of ways, socially and academically.

“The surprising thing is that they’re students, but they sacrifice all their time to volunteer for this organization. There’s no way to repay [what they’ve given me], other than to work hard and help incoming students after you get here,” he said.

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