CASA brings student unemployment to Liberals’ attention

OTTAWA (CUP) – With an election looming right around the corner, political parties are beginning to consider possible platforms and campaign strategies –and one student group in particular has taken this opportunity to bend the federal Liberal party’s ear.

Representatives from the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) met with Liberal MP Justin Trudeau on Sept. 15 to discuss rising student unemployment rates, and what the government can do to help Canadian youth during this economic recession.

“What came forward, first of all, through sharing both personal stories and the larger trends, is that there are immediate needs – we have immediate concerns that our Canadian students are not being able to make it through this recession,” Trudeau said, shortly after the meeting wrapped on Parliament Hill.

“Yes, we’re seeing some cautious signs of recovery in the economy, but the lag time it’s going to take before that reaches the kinds of employment that young people can find in order to supplement their studies … [it’s] somewhere that the government absolutely needs to step in and step up,” he added.

CASA National Director Arati Sharma indicated that it’s young people who often take the blame for not being able to afford their studies.

“The argument that we get a lot of the time is, ‘you know, students should take responsibility,’ but . . . students are trying to take responsibility – the economic recession has hit them really hard, and the government is penalizing them for trying to go out and work,” she said.

Sharma pointed out that current Canada Student Loan Program applications involve pre-study income requirements – essentially, expectations that students have been working over the summer and can use the money to help pay for school – but this summer has boasted some of the worst student unemployment rates in decades.

“In August, actually, [the youth unemployment rate] was 16.4 per cent – and that’s the highest it’s been since 1977,” said Sharma.

“What we have right now is an educational assistance system . . . [the] Canada Student Loans [Program], or the various provincial initiatives, that were set up for good times,” said Trudeau.

“What we see right now is that there is a chronic under-evaluation of students’ financial needs, and a chronic over-evaluation of their capacity to find jobs to compensate for the missing income.”

“It’s to the point where the burden is completely on [students’] shoulders, especially with the recession,” said Sharma.

The recession, she said, has “been hitting universities. We know that endowment funds have gone down significantly, and if there isn’t some sort of funding towards the system as well as the students, the burden is going to fall on the students, no matter what.”

Trudeau indicated that the recommendations discussed with the CASA representatives at the meeting would be considered when the party puts together larger strategies “in an eventual election campaign”.

“If we do have an election, I hope – and CASA hopes – that these candidates are thinking about where Canada is going to go and what the big vision for Canada is,” said Sharma.

“You can’t have a vision for a country in this day and age, and in our knowledge economy, without thinking about investments in higher education.”