ULSU lobby effort focusses on student finances

Maintaining affordable education was the overriding theme of the 2010 Lobby Conference as student associations from across the country gathered in Ottawa recently to voice their concerns to the country's key decision-makers.

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), representing and promoting the interests of post-secondary students to federal and inter-provincial levels of government, introduced a number of ideas to governmental policy makers. Student financial aid and the Canada Student Loan Program are on the list of key issues CASA is lobbying for this year. With debt becoming an ever larger issue for students, CASA is especially focused on the cost of obtaining a quality education.

Taz Kassam, University of Lethbridge Students' Union president, and Allan Hall, vice-president, Operations and Finance, represented the ULSU at the conference.

"The inability for students to secure enough cash or credit to afford tuition payments, books and the basic essentials of living is one of the financial barriers that students face," says Kassam.

CASA has recommended the federal government increase the amount of allowable in-study income in the next fiscal year. This means that if students choose to work during the school year, they will not be penalized for earning income and therefore qualify for less money from the Canada Student Loan Program. This change could also discourage students from seeking private loans.

CASA is also addressing the issue of funding for aboriginal students. Aboriginal Peoples face persistent inequalities in regard to labour market outcomes, the most influential factor being that of post-secondary educational attainment rate.

"The Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) is the funding mechanism for First Nations and Inuit Students," says Kassam. "This program has been capped at a 2 per cent increase since 1996, spreading the available cash very thin and likely reducing the number of aboriginal students attending post-secondary institutions.

"We have proposed the 2 per cent cap be removed, and an increase in funding be provided to better reflect the real cost of attending a post-secondary institution."

Another issue is the ongoing debate over Bill-C32: The Copyright Act. Publishing companies, such as Access Copyright, are petitioning to propose a student levy that would make post-secondary institutions pay for the possibility that someone may print a copy of work already owned digitally. This issue could lead to hefty increases in the cost of textbooks.

"The Book Importation Tax states that parallel importation is illegal for commercial booksellers, meaning that if a book title has a Canadian copyright holder that is selling the book for no more than 10 per cent above the American retail price, it is illegal for a physical store to maintain a competitive edge and buy the book from the United States," says Kassam.

The recommendation put forth by CASA is to amend the bill as it stands, prohibiting the parallel importation of books from foreign distributors.

Kassam says the ULSU, as an extension of CASA, is working hard to serve U of L students.

"We are doing all we can to ensure post-secondary education is affordable, of the highest quality and easily accessible," says Kassam. "These are very important issues that will not only affect today's students but also those who will be entering post-secondary institutions in the future."

This story originally appeared in the December issue of the Legend. For a look at the full issue of the December Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.