Nunavut investigating student aid program after late payments leave post-secondary learners in the lurch
Education minister originally denied there were delays in issuing funds to students
Nunavut's education minister says her department will now be investigating a vital funding program for post-secondary students after delayed payments forced some students to go hungry and jeopardized other students' studies.
"Ensuring that students receive their funding is [our] top priority, and I'm sorry that there are students that are experiencing these delays," Pamela Gross said Thursday.
In recent days, seven students have told CBC News they haven't received their funding yet through Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students, a program commonly referred to as FANS.
Some told CBC News they are at risk of being kicked out of their programs because they can't pay their fees.
Earlier this month, a student in the Nunavut Teacher Education program in Iqaluit began drawing public awareness to the plight of her fellow students, some of whom couldn't afford to feed themselves because their funding had been delayed.
Up until Thursday, Gross has publicly denied FANS was behind on any payments.
On Thursday, during a live COVID-19 briefing, Gross apologized for the delays in providing funding and committed to investigating and improving the FANS program.
"This is an issue that has been happening for a very long time, and we need to ensure that we're addressing the students and working on these challenges and barriers that students might face. And as I work further, I would like to investigate as soon as possible to see where we can make corrections and help support students," she said.
"We really need to ensure that students are being met adequately and receive their funding."
Gross said part of the problem lies with student enrolment forms. Those forms are needed in order for FANS to supply funding, but some students have had trouble getting their enrolment information from their post-secondary institutions in time.
Left in the dark
Students who spoke with CBC News said responses from FANS came late, if at all, when they asked about their late funding.
FANS funding is supposed to be doled out on the first and 15th of every month.
While some students hadn't experienced a disruption to their funding, others hadn't received one or both of January's payments.
Taylor Kusugak, who is taking business management and entrepreneurship at Algonquin College in Ottawa, said she has started classes already. She was late applying for this round of funding, but it's now been nearly three weeks since she submitted her paperwork.
Now, she's facing the possibility of late penalties and says she is in danger of losing her spot at the college.
"[FANS] has given me little to no updates," she said.
Kerri Ningeocheak is in the environmental technology program at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit. She applied for her funding on time, but hasn't received any payments this month.
She said she was initially told she should be paid within three to five business days. Now, it's been three weeks since she's been able to talk to anyone at FANS.
Many of the students also said the delays are making them worry at a time when they already have a lot on their minds.
Jack Allakariallak, also in the environmental technology program at Nunavut Arctic College, said the delay adds an "unnecessary" amount of stress.
"It's something that I have to keep in the back of my mind — when am I going to get this? I have to put in extra effort to find out," he said.
Unable to afford necessities
Some students are relying on support from their families until their funding comes through.
Roseanne Amautinuar, who is in her fourth year of the teachers education program at Nunavut Arctic College, said her food hamper from the college is about to run out and she is still waiting on her student funding.
"Coming here was the toughest decision to make because I do not know anyone here, and I struggle to look for easy access for food," she explained. She is living in Iqaluit with her three school-aged children.
Her mother, Mary Aklah, has been sending money from the $1,000 she receives each month in income support so her grandchildren don't go hungry.
"It would help a lot if they received more money during the holiday season," Aklah told CBC News in Inuktitut. "Especially if students cannot go home during the holidays, it would make me happy if they received more or even if they can just go home during this time."
Sandy Pudlat, who is also in the environmental technology program at Nunavut Arctic College and wants to become a wildlife officer one day, said he can't pay rent and the deadline to pay his tuition passed a few days ago.
"It's been pretty rough, since I can't get my personal stuff that I need," he said.
Gross said any students who haven't received their funding should contact her office directly so she can investigate.
Written by April Hudson with files from Teresa Qiatsuq, Salome Avva and Cindy Alorut.