New Brunswick

University groups fight for EI benefit return, but province says try other avenues

University student groups met Wednesday with Trevor Holder, the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, to see what could be done about the dropping of an employment insurance program for students.

Post-secondary students were eligible for employment insurance benefits before the program was cut

Four members from a student alliance stand in from of the Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour building in Fredericton.
New Brunswick Student Alliance stands outside the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour, where they met with the minister to discuss ways students who relied on EI benefits can get financial support for school. (Radio-Canada/Alix Villeneuve)

Some New Brunswick students were surprised to learn about a cut in employment insurance benefits last month. On Wednesday, university student representatives spoke with the minister of post-secondary education about getting the program back.

Until recently, people who had worked enough hours in summer jobs to be eligible for employment insurance benefits could access them while at university or other training full time. 

Sydona Chandon, the executive director of the New Brunswick Student Alliance met with Trevor Holder, the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, and proposed some options.

They included a one-year grace period so students can prepare for the financial change, and an adequate needs-based grant.

"Based on what the feedback we've gotten, we feel like we will be able to make some decisions going forward together as a team," Chandon said. "We believe that there was some positive feedback, but we are also waiting on some solid answers this week with followup."

But she doubts the EI benefits will return.

"Based on the conversation that we've had with the minister, even asking for the grace period seemed like a bit much. So based on the responses, we do highly doubt that that would be like something that will be change.".

She said she heard about the need for the benefits from many students.

Two men stand in front of a wall
Kordell Walsh, president of the UNB Student Union, left, and Jean-Sebastien Leger, president of the U de M student federation, took their concerns to the province about the cut to EI benefits for students. (Radio-Canada/Alix Villeneuve)

"We've heard from quite a lot of students, quite a lot. It's a huge turnout," she said. "Emails are full. Students are crying. It's really, it's a terrible look. And so we really want to see some change being brought forward."

Jean-Sebastien Leger, president of the Université de Moncton student federation, also met with Holder, asking for benefits to be returned. He left the meeting disappointed.

The biggest concern for him is the lack of a short-term solution for September.

"It's put a lot of pressure, financial pressure, on them and on their families to find a solution in the short term," Leger said.

Minster says there are many options

Holder said the meetings today were productive and was happy he was able to meet with students. He said he made it clear to them that the EI benefits students were using was not an appropriate use of unemployment insurance.

"Let's not use unemployment insurance for something it wasn't intended to use," he said. "The federal government made it clear that this was not an appropriate use and we agreed with them."

More conversations are expected in the next few weeks and over the next three to four months. He said the students were complimentary when it came to the province eliminating interest on student loans and the increase to minimum wage.

"I didn't say no to anything today," Holder said. "I didn't say yes to anything today. What I did say yes to was an agreement that we were going to work together."

Trevor Holder, the minister of post-secondary education, said there are many options for students to get money for school, including bursaries. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

There are other avenues to get money for school, Holder said, including programs such as bursaries and scholarships that students don't apply for because they may think they don't qualify.

"We need to get the message out that there is considerable help out there in this province for post-secondary students. And we're going to be ramping that up over the next few days and weeks."

Holder said the government has a responsibility to promote the programs available for students. The conversation Wednesday could lead New Brunswick officials to spend more time helping students find financial aid.