Ante up: The Financial Aftermath of Covid-19
The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we knew it. Everything, from schools to shopping, to hanging out with friends, isn't how we ever imagined it to be. However, the most debilitating and universal impact of the pandemic is that it caused financial upheaval in the lives of many people. In Canada, in April alone, almost 2 million* jobs were lost due to the pandemic.
While the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB ) /Canadian Emergency Student Benifit (CESB) initiated by the Canadian Government, which gave eligible Canadians $2000/month and Candian students $1250*, did help reduce financial burden of many Canadians, many people, especially new international students, did not qualify for these benefits on the account of their immigration status as international students in Canada.
CBU President, David Dingwall, publicly addressed this concern and called for federally sponsored financial aid for international students.
Students are a particularly vulnerable segment of the population and are one of the worst hit sections of society during the pandemic. Not only do many students live pay check to pay check, but several students also have huge debt from their student loan.
Cape Breton University (CBU) and Cape Breton University Student Union (CBUSU) took on many initiatives to help ease the financial burden on students during the pandemic.
On the 9th of April, Cape Breton University announced that they would be financially supporting students who were impacted by the pandemic but were ineligible for CERB through an emergency bursary fund called "The Perseverance: Student Relief Fund".
CBU later announced that through this emergency fund they were able to support 393 students through emergency bursaries, totaling $203,00*
Ryan Magee, Vice President Finance & Operations of CBUSU, told Caper Times that CBUSU has spent over $5,199 since May 2020 on it's food bank activities. In March, the foodbank reimbursed $20 to each student who sent in their grocery receipt. 863 students were reimbursed for a total of $17,260 since March.
CBU Students Union Representatives started the Mobile Food Bank in the beginning of July where they set up a food bank booth in easily accessible locations in Sydney or Glace Bay. About 30 students have accessed the mobile food bank so far.
Source- CBUSU Facebook page.
On 28th of August, food bank deliveries were carried out and supplies was delivered to 20 different locations and a total of 50 students benefited from these deliveries.
While this direct and indirect financial support from CBU and CBUSU has benefitted some students, many still feel that the majority of students are still under immense financial pressure due to an unanticipated increase in tuition fee along with the mandatory use of paid digital learning platforms for some online classes.
Troy Sawyer (name changed for maintaining confidentiality) reached out to Caper Times to express his concerns with the increase in tuition fee during the pandemic.
"I’m a business management student currently doing my internship. First of all I want to say that what CBU told us was we have to an estimation of $22500, and I think estimation doesn’t mean it would go upto $27000. If they increase the fee also by 3% then too it doesn’t make sense. Secondly, they want us to pay the full amount before September 30th" otherwise they will deregister us from our courses which is completely unacceptable in light of current situation. Sydney, Glacebay doesn’t have that many jobs and the pandemic ruined our chances of getting a job in the summer time which was the only hope for many students"
Troy shared a snippet of the document he received from CBU giving an estimate of the tuition fee along with his offer letter from the University
The email referred to by Troy
When asked about the strict deadline for tuition fee payment, CBUSU President, Amrinder Singh told Caper Times, "A formal letter from the Students' Union was sent to the administration on Sept 9th asking for the reasons why such an email was sent to the students in the middle of a global pandemic where our student body is already under financial and mental distress and demanding extension on the deadline to the end of the semester."
Another financial concern being faced by students is the mandatory use of paid online learning platforms such as McGraw-Hill Connect and Top Hat. CBUSU Executive Vice President, Tom Joseph Scaria told Caper Times that he has been in touch with university representatives regarding this issue. The following are excerpts from his email to university faculty regarding this issue:
"A student with a full course load of 5 courses being asked to pay roughly $113 per course is an added $600 per semester that they were not expecting or might not have accounted for. This has caused distress among students, who are already struggling to cope with the current predicament. While going through the features of these paid platforms I noticed that most of what they offer such as Textbooks, Teacher/Student Screensharing, Interactive Quizzes, Online Presentations, Instant Messaging, Student Assignment Distribution, Student Assignment Collection, Progress Reporting & Shared Content Libraries, are already available within the combination Moodle, Microsoft Teams and Outlook - services that the students are already accustomed to and more importantly, don’t cost them anything."
"While it might be a small number, almost all the student concerns have been based on this particular service - McGraw-Hill Connect. Platforms like McGraw-Hill Connect that have no affiliation with CBU and force you to buy an access code to get the textbook and do the add-on quizzes etc. does feel like an attempt by the publishers to extract money out of students. Faculty need to be reminded that these are expensive and when they force students into buying eBooks, they are losing out on the option they previously had about sharing, rotating or buying used textbooks. The Library has been working on getting more Open Textbooks and the Student Union has been pushing for the same (https://libguides.cbu.ca/OER), and this use of McGraw-Hill Connect seems to be going in the opposite direction"
Tom also added that he has informed the deans of all schools, the Centre for Teaching and Learning as well as the VP Academic and Provost from CBU Management about this concern. They are all now aware that this practice is happening and that the students are facing difficulty.
Caper Times continues to be in constant communication with the student union body and the university to help give students a platform to raise their concerns and find possible solutions to resolve these concerns during these unprecedented times.
On a positive note, Atlantic Canada is relatively ahead on the path to recovery from the financial impact of covid-19 as cases of infection in the Atlantic provinces have declined significantly. How long will this be sustained? Read our article on the potential second wave of the virus *here*.
Disclaimer- The author of this article is a CBU student enrolled in 2020 fall semester and was also affected by the increase in tuition fee and use of paid digital learning platforms. Although best efforts were made to eliminate any bias and report as accurately as possible, occasional errors may be possible.