By Karla Holt
The unimaginable has happened–a western Canadian provincial government and the federal government have actually united for the good of students.
Saskatchewan and the federal government have worked together to create Canada’s first unified federal-provincial student loan program. Instead of applying to the
institution attended as well as the provincial and federal governments, a harmonized loan means that students can apply to one provider, with one set of needs assessment criteria, instead of the current two or three.
"Both the federal and provincial governments are still responsible for loaning students money," says Canadian Alliance of Student Associations communications coordinator Kieran Green. "However, the loan will only go through one service provider, meaning that there is less money wasted on administration and the money that they both save can be used to improve the service to students."
According to CASA, harmonized student loans provide a substantial benefit to students, said University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union President Aaron Dougan.
"The change from a default time limit of 120 to 270 days is part and parcel of harmonization with the Canada Student Loans Program, [and] would not be part of the provincial program otherwise."
In addition to this, harmonizing student loans would change accessibility for students. "The amount of money needed here in Calgary and in a place like Olds are not the same," said SU Vice-president External Duncan Wojtaszek. "Harmonized loans would allow the government to assess based on region."
"The way it stands now, the federal government uses national averages to assess need," agreed Green. "However, we all know that it costs more to live in cities like Toronto and Vancouver than it does to live in Regina or Red Deer."
While Wojtaszek agreed that government lending is the preferable option, he also pointed out that the Alberta government’s handling of student loans has left the province in far better shape than most.
"Our provincial government administers loans better than most," he argued. "There is one form, and much of the needs assessment is done provincially. They stay within federal boundaries but do a lot of work to make it easier for students."
So far, Saskatchewan is the only province that has embraced the harmonized student loans program. While it’s been discussed in Alberta in the past, harmonization is currently not an option for Alberta students.
"There was talk about two years ago, but it fell off with difficulties in finding service providers," said Wojtaszek. "Currently, Alberta’s provincial loans are still done by banks–the Alberta government does not want to be the one
Since the bank’s contract was recently renewed, harmonization will not become an option for Alberta students until the current contract runs out. In the meantime, the government is waiting to see how well the harmonized program works in Saskatchewan.
"It is vital for the Canadian government to have success in what they are doing right now," stated Wojtaszek. "Alberta will not change until they see success in Canada–harmonization is certainly something that we would like to see, but the way things currently are, the odds are pretty slim."