- Created on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 18:22
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By SHEILA PRITCHARD
Some Aboriginal students enjoy the benefits of the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), but many others who should be eligible are not getting the aid they need due to limited access and a long-time cap on funding.
The program for Aboriginal students, administered by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and the Government of Canada, is intended to help students cover the costs of tuition, books, supplies, living expenses and travel, as well as tutorials, counselling and guidance services. However, there are many specific criteria for students to have access to funding, and a cap imposed over a decade ago prevents many from receiving enough aid or consideration.
Tamara Popovic, research and policy analyst for the College Student Alliance and author of Effecting Change Through Education: Aboriginal Students in Ontario’s Post-Secondary Education System, says first it has to be made clear that students must have Indian status to receive government funding and they need to be aware of funding conditions.
“Only registered First Nations and Inuit students can access PSSSP; and they must maintain and display a satisfactory level of academic aptitude. In contrast, non-Aboriginal students who apply for government loans, such as Ontario Secondary Assistance Program (OSAP), do not need to maintain a level of aptitude or a specific grade average in order to receive funding,” says Popovic.
She points out that an array of issues exist with the program, including no formal distribution for funds and the exclusion of Métis and non-status Natives. The main issue is the two per cent cap applied to annual program funding in 1996.
“Available funding for students has decreased because tuition has increased more than a two per cent cap imposed in the mid-nineties allows,” she says.
“As a result of this two per cent cap, thousands of Aboriginals with status are being denied access to post-secondary education each year.”
A review by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), titled The Federal Budget 2012: Systemic Underfunding for Aboriginal Peoples, says that while more than 20,000 First Nations students wait on lists to receive funding to pursue higher education, the federal government continues to keep funding capped at two per cent per year.
“No new money is provided to help these students achieve an education,” CUPE reports.
Julie Murray, a Niagara College student studying social services and working towards applying her college credits to a continued program at Niagara University, says she is not receiving any financial support from PSSSP, but she is hopeful about working with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Services here to learn more about accessing assistance.
“My grandfather was Native, I’m Native, so why am I excluded?”
In a 2012 Senate debate about barriers to post-secondary education for First Nations students, Senator Claudette Tardif stressed the importance of removing the cap.
“Between 2006 and 2011, a staggering 18,500 people were denied funding; that is roughly half of those who qualified. Why is the government not moving forward on this particular issue?”
Murray says she feels fortunate to be financially secure now because she has help from her father to pay her rent, but she knows when she makes the move to university costs could become overwhelming.
“When anybody is left out from accessing funding, status or not, it’s not right,” says Murray.
“I need this [assistance] to go to university. Darn government, it’s a form of bullying.”