Nunavut students are stressed, going into debt due to decade-old assistance formula

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Correction: An earlier version of this story provided an incorrect figure for the FANS annual budget. The correct figure for fiscal year 2018/2019 is $8,352,000.

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Robert Clift, the Family Services director whose job it is to oversee the territorial government’s Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students (FANS) program, concedes the program is not formulated to address the cost of living.

“Students have been saying this for years – we know that it’s not enough, the living allowance,” said Clift.

Three FANS recipients agreed to speak with Nunavut News.

Austin Robinson, of Cambridge Bay, is pursuing a teaching degree at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit. Despite remaining debt-free through a two-year Early Childhood Education diploma program, he finds himself going into debt this year due to the Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students program not factoring in the actual cost of living students face.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

FACT FILE

Basic financial assistance through the Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students (FANS) program

  • Basic grant for Nunavut student for tuition, fees, and books: up to $6,855
  • Supplementary grant for Nunavut Inuit to help with cost of living, and travel for dependents: Range is from approximately $1,032 to $2,600 per month
  • Primary loan (forgivable if student works in Nunavut after schooling): $8.22/day
  • Needs-assessed loan (must be repaid):  determined by financial need

Cost of airfare to institution is covered by FANS, applicable for roughly 66 per cent of students.

FANS also offers funding for students with permanent disabilities and on-line course reimbursement.

source: Department of Family Services

Joseph, whose real name is withheld on request, had to abandon his dream, quit school and head back to the workforce.

“It’s pretty bleak. FANS is not sufficient to sustain anybody wishing to go back to school, especially in Iqaluit,” he said.

Joseph, who is Inuk, recalls an orientation at the beginning of the school year, which included representatives from the Arviat FANS office.

“Returning students had frustrations. They were yelling at the employee, jeering,” he said.

The inadequate FANS funding jeopardized his family’s finances, including jeopardizing the family’s housing.

“I started getting deeper and deeper into debt because of it. It just wasn’t sustainable. And I was very successful in the course that I was taking,” said Joseph.

Austin Robinson, who hails from Cambridge Bay, successfully completed a two-year diploma in Early Childhood Education at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit. After a year, he decided he wanted to be a teacher and enrolled in the Nunavut Teacher Education Program. For the first time in his life, after his second year of teacher training, he’s in debt.

“It’s hard. It’s very hard. It’s part of the reason I’ve been so mentally drained lately. I just had to borrow some laundry detergent from a friend,” he said, adding other students are in the same boat.

“We console each other, try to help each other out when we can.”

Robinson, who lives at a Nunavut Arctic College residence during the school year, and gets his meals there, nevertheless had to take a part-time job to survive. But the future teacher had to let it go for a while so he could stay focused on his studies.

Jared Stevens, a resident non-Inuk who just finished his first year of nursing in Iqaluit, says there’s no way he’d be able to survive without a friend letting him rent a room for $500 rather than the market price of $1,200. Also to survive, he works two nights a week minimum.

“It’s difficult because, in nursing, the course load is so heavy. It would be nice not having to go to work the night before a big exam. But I know if I don’t go (to work), I won’t be able to pay my rent,” said Stevens.

Fellow students are also struggling and, he says, he’s lucky that he has parents who can occasionally help out. He says of the original six students in his program, three remain. Family Services does not keep detailed statistics on why students quit their studies.

FACT FILE 

Comparison: Nunavut and the Northwest Territories

Basic grant (tuition, fees and books):

Nunavut: $6,855/year

Northwest Territories: $2,950/semester

 

Supplementary grant (living allowance):

Nunavut (for Nunavut Inuit): $1,032 to $2,600/month (varies depending on marital status, dependents)

Northwest Territories: $850/month

 

Loan:

Nunavut: maximum $4,400/year

Northwest Territories: $1,400/month

source: Department of Family Services

Business case for increase in development

The Government of Nunavut repeatedly states it wants an educated and professional population. In fact, the FANS program “is designed to ensure that financial need is not a barrier to higher education,” according to the Family Services website.

The FANS living allowance has remained unchanged for almost a decade. Clift’s FANS team is currently writing up a business case to see it increased. There are problems with tuition, as well.

“Although we’ve increased the amount on the basic grant (for tuition, books and fees) to cover increases in tuition fees in 2015 (to $6,855/year), we’re still hearing from folks going south that, at some of the universities, they’re having to pull money out of their own pocket,” said Clift.

“Some places it’s rising more quickly than we projected. That’s a big problem, particularly if someone gets into professional studies.”

The FANS review began in October. However, any potential changes likely would not go into effect until the 2020-2021 academic year.

FANS provided funding to 482 students – 405 Inuit and 77 non-Inuit – in 2018-2019. The total, including travel, was $8,352,000.

Of those who received FANS for this past school year, about half studied in Nunavut and half went south.

Anecdotal stories about the insufficiency of FANS abound on social media, in conversations among students, and among those who know students. Does all that talk impede potential students from pursuing post-secondary education?

“It doesn’t help, that’s for sure,” said Clift.

“Unfortunately, we just don’t have any source of data to be able to say. This is purely anecdotal, and my own interpretation of these anecdotes, but I do see in appeal documents and in various kinds of inquiries I get from students, and the FANS office gets from them, that people are generally having a hard time.”

The people who concern Clift most are parents, and single parents in particular.

“A single parent, even with one child, has moved down to Winnipeg to do a program, they would get $1,600. They’ve got to pay rent, all the utilities, food for themselves and their kid, they’ve got to buy diapers, they’ve got to pay for childcare somehow,” he said.

“And that’s the big thing. We don’t do anything specifically for childcare. What we do is give an amount to the parent and say, ‘You’ve got to make it work.'”

Clift says the territory lacks a comprehensive childcare strategy.

The FANS team will be sending out a survey to bolster its business case. Clift hopes a similar survey will go out to the general public.

“We’ll use what we get from the surveys, basically, as a check on our work,” said Clift.

“Our goal is to assist people to get their education, not to make it difficult.”


FACT FILE

Family status of FANS recipients

Single: 248

Single parents: 47

Married, no dependents: 7

Married with dependents: 54

Common-law, no dependents: 21

Common-law, with dependents: 57

source: Department of Family Services

 

FACT FILE

FANS disbursed for 2018-2019

Basic grant only: 7 (6 Inuit, 1 non-Inuk)

Basic and supplemental grants: 349 Inuit

Basic grant and primary loan: 33 non-Inuit

Primary loan only: 8 non-Inuit

Secondary loan only: 19 non-Inuit

Basic and supplementary grants, and needs-assessed loan: 3 Inuit

Secondary and needs-assessed loans: 2 non-Inuit

Distance-learning reimbursements: 6 (4 Inuit, 2 non-Inuit)

Scholarships: 54 (43 Inuit, 11 non-Inuit)

 

Total: 482 (405 Inuit, 77 non-Inuit)

 

Total FANS budget for 2018-2019, including travel: $977,232

source: Department of Family Services

 

FACT FILE

FANS statistics for 2018-2019:

Women who applied: 534

Men who applied: 197

Nunavut Inuit who applied: 610

Non-Inuit Nunavummiut who applied: 121

Total: 731

source: Department of Family Services