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Affordability measures won't make student life more affordable, says U of A student union

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Edmonton university students say this year's provincial budget doesn't do enough to address the affordability crisis they are facing.

Chris Beasley of the University of Alberta Students' Union said the $69 million in available student grants is not enough to help the student population.

"Yesterday's budget was a disappointment for all of the students that were experiencing a profound affordability crisis and were hoping for affordability relief," Beasley said.

At the University of Alberta, the Campus Food Bank recently saw the busiest month in its 30-year history.

"January 2024 is our ultimate record of how many folks we’ve served," said Campus Food Bank director Erin O'Neil. "Just five years ago, we were serving a hundred families per month, and in January, we served over a thousand families."

O'Neil said students are under more pressure than ever before, and she's also disappointed the 2024 budget didn't include more financial relief measures for them.

A total of $1.4 billion for student support was included in the new budget released Thursday. Of that, $1.2 million will be disbursed as student loans.

"There's $200 million more of available loans, which is good; students can now take on loans," Beasley said. "But the number that we wanted to see increase was that $69 million in grants."

Students are also happy to see the two-per-cent tuition cap remain in place, he added, as well as capital investments in local universities.

In Edmonton, $75 million will go to expand capacity at the MacEwan University's School of Business. Another $1 million will go to the University of Alberta's Campus Saint-Jean.

However, Beasley said that money won't help students struggling to pay their bills.

According to the province, the $1.2 billion in tuition will go to around 140,000 students. The $69 million will go to about just 19,000.

Beasley said it's simply not enough to help.

"Students have been telling them all year that they need more non-repayable grants that don't contribute to the debt loads that are already so high for the students that are taking out loans," Beasley said.

O'Neil said a recent study by the Graduate Students' Association at the University of Alberta found 41 per cent of graduate students were recently considering dropping out of their program due to the high costs of rent, tuition and food.

"We are concerned that as the university increases enrollment, more and more students will be put in a position where they're having to consider what to prioritize in their budgets," O'Neil said.

The 2024 budget also includes $113 million for post-secondary scholarships and awards for around 57,000 students. 

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