Students face cash cuts
Discussion paper reveals options the GNWT may take to slash loan program

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 21/97) - Northern students may see fewer benefits from the NWT student assistance program in the upcoming year, according to a discussion paper released recently.

The paper is the first step toward controlling the cost of a program that has grown from $7.4 million in 1990/91 to $15 million in 1995/96. Since 1983, the program has grown an estimated 10 per cent each year, a rate the GNWT says cannot be funded.

Canada's Auditor General recommended that the program be reviewed "to pursue options to better manage program costs, to achieve program sustainability."

"At this point everything is on the table," said Paul Jones, executive assistant to Education Minister Charles Dent. "There are no recommendations for change. The idea is to get feedback from the public."

The paper details a series of options that might become necessary ways to control the costs of the program. One method that may be used to combat increasing costs is to reduce travel and living expense benefits. The paper acknowledges however, fewer students would be eligible for grants that would allow them to attend university outside the NWT.

Other options include providing grants on a first-come first-serve basis, providing more remissible loans instead of grants and means-testing the program to ensure that only those in need receive money.

The report also looks at what other provinces are providing for students. The NWT student financial assistance program has been called one of the best in Canada.

MLAs received the report almost two weeks ago so that they could present it to their constituents and get feedback to the minister of education's office.

Over the next month, a series of public meetings will be held to get discussion going on ways to ensure the continuation of the program.

"The plan is to get the ball rolling no later than May," said Jones.

For 1997/98, the department of education is projecting a 6.5 per cent increase in the number of students eligible for grants and a 10 per cent increase in actual grants.