Re: “New federal grants may exclude Quebec,” by Jennifer Freitas & Ben Ngai, (March 4, 2008) I feel it necessary to clarify a few points about the Millennium Scholarship Foundation and the new grants system proposed in the 2008 federal budget, as Angelica Novoa and Brent Farrington’s comments gravely misrepresent the facts.
Regarding president Novoa’s comments that the end of the Millennium Scholarship Foundation bodes well for students, it’s important to recognize that the majority of student groups across the country were advocating for the Foundation’s renewal. The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), and many other student associations, representing over 600,000 students, have all been advocating for the renewal of the MSF.
The only post-secondary stakeholder to push for the termination of the MSF was the Canadian Federation of Students. To say that the dissolution of this program will benefit students is a misrepresentation of what the academic community has been saying.
In response to Novoa’s comments, “The most positive feature of this [new] program is that all the money will be allocated to the students as opposed to being used for bureaucratic and PR objectives like the MSF used to do,” it’s important to note that this new program will be distributing the exact same amount of money to students (at least until 2012) as Millennium did; $350 million annually to be precise.
It’s worth noting that the MSF administrative costs (three to four per cent) are much lower than that of the Canada Student Loans Program (14 per cent), which is the most likely department to be responsible for the new grants program.
However, this does not mean students will be receiving less money from the new program, but it does speak to the delivery mechanism’s efficiency.
Regarding Mr. Farrington’s comments about the Foundation’s lack of accountability, one must note that the CMSF has undergone several audits, including one from the Auditor General, which have all concluded that the Foundation is well managed and is effective in its delivery of funds to students. Real accountability should be examined in a program’s efficiency.
Mr. Farrington is correct when he says that the CFS has been advocating for a national system of needs-based grants. But while he has claimed a victory over this budget, he has neglected to mention that Millennium’s dissolution has spelled the near end of needs-based grants in Canada. Whereas the Foundation was providing needs-based assistance, this new program is providing assistance based on family income. This is a system of income-based grants, targeted at middle and low income students, which is not what the CFS has been pushing for. CASA and its provincial partners are the only student groups in Canada who have been advocating for this kind of targeted support for low income students.
The new grants system proposed by the federal government is not bad, although the budget as a whole lacked a national strategy for post-secondary education and sufficient improvements to the CSLP.
However, there are gaps in the program. While it targets students from middle and low-income backgrounds, it neglects support for other student groups that are currently underrepresented in our post-secondary system, namely Aboriginal and rural students, as well as first generation learners. There are even issues with how helpful the program will actually be to middle and low income students: under the new model, middle income students will be receiving less support, and there is no early outreach program to encourage participation amongst low income students, which is needed in order to address the issue of access. There is also no needs-based component that will support students who have incurred high levels of debt, and as mentioned in the article, the new program is not flexible enough when it comes to dealing with the provinces, which is why Quebec students could potentially lose $80 million annually with this new program. With the inception of a new program, however, students now have the ability to help shape it and ensure that any potential problems are fixed. This is not a time of victory, but of opportunity to work with the federal government, and make this program the best it can be for students.
National Director, CASA