Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia student groups call on province to forgive student loans

Students groups are calling on the Nova Scotia government to take Newfoundland's lead and start offering grants, instead of student loans. But the provincial Department of Labour and Advanced Education says forgiving provincial student loans would cost $18 million a year.

Department of Labour and Advanced Education says forgiving student loans would cost $18M a year

Michaela Sam, chair of Nova Scotia’s chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students, says Newfoundland's example sets a positive precedent. (CBC)

Students groups are calling on the Nova Scotia government to take Newfoundland's lead and start offering grants, instead of student loans.

This weekend, the Newfoundland and Labrador government became the first province to scrap its student loan program. Newfoundland will spent $50.6 million on the new grant program between 2014 and 2019, including $12.6 million this year.

"It's a lot of debt relief and for students who are on the bubble of 'Can I afford this? What will my life be like if I get this degree but am saddled with debt?' I think it changes the calculation," says Kyle Power, of Students Nova Scotia.

Newfoundland has the lowest tuition in the country, with an average cost of $2,631. By comparison, Statistics Canada says tuition in Nova Scotia is third highest. It cost about $6,440 for undergraduate courses during the last school year.

Michaela Sam, chair of Nova Scotia's chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students, says Newfoundland's example shows some governments are willing to consider that grants may actually help retain graduates.

She says lifting a tuition cap in Nova Scotia and lower tuition elsewhere makes the province a less desirable place to study. 

"It's really affecting where students are choosing to attend post-secondary education and where they're choosing to settle down in a province after they've graduated," she says.

40 per cent grant available

Nova Scotia's Department of Labour and Advanced Education says it spends $35 million a year on the student loan program.

A spokesperson for the department says converting all the provincial students loans to grants would come with a "significant cost" of about $18 million a year.

The department says students receiving assistance already receive 40 per cent, or up to $2,500 a year, as a grant.

There is a new program that allows eligible students who have graduated from programs in Nova Scotia to have all of their provincial loan forgiven when they graduate.

University and college graduate Morgan Zinc says she plans to move out of province to start paying off "daunting" students loans. (CBC)

But Saint Mary's and NSCC graduate Morgan Zinck says the province's programs haven't gone far enough to help her. She says despite scholarships and working part-time throughout her schooling, she's now facing paying off between $40,000 and $50,000 in student loans.

'Daunting' loans 

"It's a daunting feeling to know that along with your everyday bills, other everyday costs and everything else you incur, that there's also this that you have to worry about and think about."

Zinck, who is originally from Bridgewater, N.S., expects to move away this fall, a large part because she wants to pay off her loans and hasn't been able to find work in her field here.

"It would've been amazing to know that you're starting out on an even keel as opposed to starting off with such a huge deficit," she said.

"I think it would also make being in school easier, because you could focus so much on your studies and on doing well."

According to a Statistics Canada survey of 2010 graduates in Nova Scotia, on average, people who graduated from a bachelor program owed $32,300 to government student loans, which was up from $23,500 a decade earlier. Within three years of graduation, 18 per cent had paid off their debt but 68 per cent of graduates still owed more than $25,000. 

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