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No plan to manage loan debt in new budget

Student debt is skyrocketing in Canada. By 2016, federal student debt will likely be more than $19 billion.

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By Katie Stobbart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: April 3, 2013

Student debt is skyrocketing in Canada.

In 2011, a report on the Canada Student Loans Program released by the Federal Government revealed that student loan debt in Canada would exceed its limit of $15 billion by 2013.

According to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), national student loan debt has now surpassed that limit – and continues to rise.

CFS National Chairperson Adam Awad addressed the House of Commons in October with recommendations for the government’s next budget.

“Average public student debt is now over $27,000 after an undergraduate degree alone,” Awad said. “Paired with rising tuition fees, it’s easy to understand how we’ve arrived at a situation in which Canadians collectively owe $15 billion to the federal government alone, not including the billions more that they owe to provincial and private loans.”

By 2016, federal student debt will likely be more than $19 billion.

“Continuing to download the cost of post-secondary education onto students is a short-sighted policy that will harm Canada’s economic recovery,” Awad said.

The CFS recommendations to the government included reducing tuition fees to 1992 levels, increasing the value and number of grants, and to cut student loan debt over a three-year period. Their publication, Public Education for the Public Good, which was distributed in parliament in October, cites a number of studies supporting the recommendations and exploring the impact of debt on students and society.

“High levels of debt also discourage individuals from starting families, working in the public service, purchasing a home, and pursuing low-paying or volunteer experience in a career-related field of study that may be necessary to get the experience needed to get a middle-income job,” says the CFS publication.

Figures in the document show that tuition fees in BC more than doubled between 1992 and 2012, that Canadian tuition fees increased faster than all other student costs (transportation, food and rent) in the last decade, and that since 2010, Canada’s global ranking for economic competitiveness dropped from eighth to 15th place.

“Over 147,000 Canadians are currently unable to make any payments on their loans from month to month,” Awad revealed in his presentation to parliament. “In conditions like these, how could we possibly expect students and graduates to participate fully in the economy?”

Canada’s new Economic Action Plan was presented in March and introduced a new Canada Job Grant which focuses on skills training.

“In 2011, we expanded eligibility for student loans and grants. Right now there are more than 500,000 students benefitting from these programs,” Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty said in his 2013 budget speech. “Expanding educational opportunities and skills training will help Canada compete.”

But CFS maintains the current budget falls short when it comes to making post-secondary education affordable for Canadians and dealing with rising levels of debt.

“The 2013 budget is not an economic action plan for students and recent graduates,” Awad said.

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