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Rutherford Scholarship applications open, but other scholarships still on hold until late fall

The Government of Alberta says Rutherford Scholarship applications are now open, but dozens of others will remain on hold until late fall.

Advanced education minister says Rutherford was made a priority, and work is underway on others

The province says Rutherford Scholarship applications have reopened, after they were previously put on hold until late fall. (University of Alberta)

The Government of Alberta says Rutherford Scholarship applications are now open, but dozens of others will remain on hold until late fall.

"The priority at the moment is to get the Rutherford Scholarship up and running, which we have done, to make sure that there is no impact to students and to families of course who are looking at the upcoming semester," Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides told CBC News Tuesday afternoon.

CBC News reported Monday the entire province's scholarship system had, at that time, been put on hold until late fall.

Applications were initially set to open on Aug. 1, but parents and students who visited the website after that date were told work was underway on a technology upgrade that would delay access to the application for months.

"I want to be clear: the Rutherford Scholarship should never have been affected by the technology upgrade," Nicolaides said. "There was miscommunication within the department and when I found out, I took immediate steps to address the issue to ensure that this important service is available to students across Alberta."

Other scholarships remain delayed

The Rutherford — which has provided funding to thousands of Alberta students each year for decades and is largely considered guaranteed money for students in the province that maintain high marks — is just one of the dozens of scholarships impacted. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Student Aid website still stated applications wouldn't be available until late fall.

Nicolaides said the government is working to ensure there will be no further complications with the technology upgrade, and said he hopes to have more information on all of the other impacted scholarships in the near future.

The Serving Communities Internship Program, which provides $1,000 grants to students who complete short internships for non-profit organizations, was also still marked as "delayed" with no applications being accepted for the 2019-2020 school year.

I'm glad that, because me and other students have really spoken up about this, the changes were made, and I've already been able to apply.-Student Kaitlin Carter

When asked if the scholarship situation should signal anything about a review on the scholarship program in the upcoming budget, the advanced education minister was non-committal.

"I think the thing that this signals the most is that we're being diligent and fast-acting … of course, we're in a pre-budget scenario and phase," he said, adding that an independent panel of experts is currently reviewing the state of the province's finances and will be reporting back to government in a few days.

Kaitlin Carter was counting on the Rutherford Scholarship to apply toward tuition for her first year at the University of Lethbridge, and when she heard applications had opened, she submitted hers immediately.

"It was really exciting. I'm glad that, because me and other students have really spoken up about this, the changes were made, and I've already been able to apply," Carter said. 

But, she said she's sure other students would like to see all of the scholarship applications open.

"I think because the Rutherford was the biggest focus, that's what was fixed so quickly. But it's still very important that these other scholarships get up and running again."

The Opposition criticized the confusion the Rutherford delay caused for students and families.

"While we give credit to the minister for clearing up the confusion he created, he needs to do better next time," said David Eggen, the NDP's advanced education critic, in an emailed release. "I am glad the minister listened to the calls from our caucus and from parents and students affected by this baffling oversight."

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