Education News – CASA outlines priorities for upcoming year

CALGARY (Special to CUP) ? Canada’s second-largest student advocacy organization will prioritize access and child-care issues in the next year, following the decision reached at a week-long policy and strategy session at the University of Calgary.

Post-secondary institutions? students’ unions and associations representatives from across the nation attended the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations policy and strategy conference last week. CASA national director Arati Sharma explained the meeting allowed membership to identify several lobbying priorities for the coming year.

?Affordability and upfront grants are one of them, and That’s where we’re talking about access grants,? said Sharma. ?Upfront grants are for students from under-represented backgrounds, such as low-income, first-generation [students]. Another policy-slash-advocacy priority is Metis, Inuit, and First Nations groups and their access to post-secondary education, their barriers, their challenges, and how we can meet them.?

Although primarily an undergraduate organization, CASA also tackles graduate student issues. Many graduate schools were represented in Calgary, and discussion centred around tri-council funding through the three main federal scholarships: the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR).

The delegation additionally focused on another pertinent issue for masters and PhD students.

?we’re also looking at child care on campus, which was an issue that was brought up by graduate students that were observing and also members, and they actually affect all students,? said Sharma.

Sharma stressed that student financial aid continues to be a priority for CASA. Much of the discussion focused on the federal government’s phasing-out of the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation and its resources, as well as access to aid for part-time students.

?We actually developed a working group on issues surrounding part-time students and the fact that sometimes they’re actually not eligible for grants, bursaries or scholarships depending on which one it is. Most of the ones that are available for students are only for full-time students, as [are] loans and student financial aid. It’s much harder, and sometimes impossible, for a part-time student to get a loan or access student financial aid compared to a full-time student,? said Sharma.

Kay She, University of Calgary Students’ Union vice-president external, attended not only as an elected official and conference host, but also as vice-chair of Council of Albertan University Students. She noted that the organizations share some common goals due to an overlap in membership.

As a VP external’s job revolves around lobbying the provincial and federal governments on behalf of students, She said working through a national body is sometimes the best option.

?Last year one of the huge gains that I thought CASA had a huge part in was the $2 billion in deferred maintenance funding that [the U of C] got from the government,? said She, noting that the SU pays $46,000 in membership fees annually. ?That was our Level 1 priority for us to lobby on and it was so important and I just think that University of Calgary students get a bang for their buck when the Students’ Union pays [CASA] membership fees because this is something that U of C students would not be able to achieve on their own.?

Tina Robichaud, of l?Université de Moncton in New Brunswick, was elected as chairperson for the upcoming year.

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