It’s been five months since the Tuition Access Bursary was announced and while it’s received mixed reactions, some St. Thomas University students receiving free tuition are feeling thankful.
First-year students Sarah Haevans said she’s felt the weight of debt lifted off her shoulders already.
“I definitely think the stress and anxiety levels are way lower because it feels almost like a safety net, like being able to not work and not work on paying it off, like, as I go, and the whole part that, like, I don’t have to pay all of it back,” Haevans said.
“That kind of, like, lessens the load on me, so I don’t feel as stressed out about going to university.”
The Tuition Access Bursary was announced by the Gallant government in April. It has been packaged as an aid to increase affordability and access for New Brunswick students to attend post-secondary institutions.
Haeavans was raised by a single mother and her mother cannot work. Haevans herself cannot work due to an anxiety disorder.
Haevans said having the privilege of free tuition is the sole reason she was able to attend STU this fall.
“I almost didn’t come to university because I can’t work either, so I can’t work towards paying [debt] off,” she said. “The TAB is literally what solidified my decision to coming is that I could get some help with that.”
The program has been criticized by many, calling it discriminatory as it calls for multiple qualification requirements and limits the bursary to going to low-income families with a $60,000 cap.
Robert Burroughs, executive director of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, said the program itself is not awful, but felt the government only went half-way with it.
“The intention are there, the execution less so,” Burroughs said.
“How do you justify literally making a single dollar over and not qualifying? We encountered a lot of frustration from students, parents, from the community, saying ‘We don’t understand what the government’s trying to do here.’”
As a student who receives the free tuition bursary, Haevans said she felt there could be more improvements made by the government but remained hopeful for the future to come.
“I hope it gets better,” she said. “Maybe, eventually, we’ll get to a point where we won’t need to pay for university at all.”