Federal budget '08: Student loan changes

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After much anticipation, interest rates on national loans were addressed.

The Harper government announced $123 million commitment over four years to streamline and modernize the Canada Student Loans Program beginning in 2009-10.

The funds will be divided into; $23 million towards building an online application and management portal for students, $26 million to reduce the contribution level required by parents or spouses and $73 million to provide interest relief for students experiencing difficulty in loan repayment.

These measures, however, are sorely inadequate to help students meet their needs, according to NDP MP and post-secondary critic Denise Savoie.

"From the start, there is no reduction in interest rates for students, which means that student debt is going to continue to rise, and student tuition continues to rise as well," Savoie said. "We've run a campaign with various student groups over the past year. I've got hundreds of cases all across Canada and just lots of student borrowers who have come into my office with issues show that the loan system is broken. The student loan [program] needs a full, comprehensive review to take into account [these issues.]"

Canadian Alliance of Student Associations national director Zach Churchill shared similar sentiments with Savoie.

"The interest relief program is a good program, it has worked well in Nova Scotia, but we were looking more for interest rate reduction on top of the already astronomical debt that students are incurring," said Churchill. "Generally speaking, there are some good things [in the budget] for students. However, what is lacking is that there is no real long-term strategy to the problems students are facing like high debt. What is really promising is that the government has committed to working with students groups to make sure that things are implemented properly."

Liberal MP Michael Savage also felt more could be done to address the problems within the CSL program.

"[This] is a very modest step, considering they have heralded the review they are doing." Savage said. "Whenever they have been asked questions in the house, based on their answers, students would have expected something significant in the area of interest rate reduction and there is nothing there in that respect. Are we meeting the needs of students? I don't believe we are. They have had an opportunity to do something significant here and they've missed it."