Delays at Manitoba Student Aid leave learners high and dry
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This article was published 03/03/2022 (451 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Post-secondary students who rely on financial aid to pay for tuition and textbooks have been scrambling to find alternative sources of income to cover winter 2022 expenses, owing to delays at Manitoba Student Aid.
A notice on the provincial aid portal states a “recent Java vulnerability issue” has set back confirming student enrolments with respective colleges and universities.
Payments originally expected in late December and early January could be delayed by one to two weeks, but were anticipated to be complete by mid-January, per the notice — which remained on the portal until Wednesday. The government took down the notice after the Free Press requested comment on the matter.
“We understand this may have a serious effect on the finances of students,” it states, before encouraging learners to reach out to their schools directly to discuss financial challenges and determine if there are available supports.
Lydia Czegledi is among those still waiting on a deposit for the winter term because of technical difficulties.
The final-year medical student at the University of Manitoba anticipated her grants and loans for the current semester, her last before a spring graduation, to arrive in early January. Czegledi said she has been reassured by provincial staff her application and enrolment are confirmed, but there are ongoing delays.
The Manitoba Student Aid office is still processing emails submitted between Dec. 1 and Feb. 14, according to a provincial website. The site also indicates work is currently underway to sort through “incoming documentation for processing” dating to Dec. 29.
A total of 489 applications were still awaiting confirmation with post-secondary institutes as of Wednesday, according to the province.
The medical student said she is fortunate she was able to secure a line of credit for emergency situations when she began her graduate studies. Without it, she said she would not be able to pay for daily living expenses, which continue to rise owing to spiking inflation.
“It’s been frustrating for me, but I feel lucky that I have (a line of credit),” Czegledi said. “I feel for the students that don’t have any safety net to fall back on, because that’s not easy.”
Post-secondary student loans are interest-free while a recipient studies. Interest on a line of credit, however, begins to accrue as soon as a cent is spent.
“Manitoba Student Aid is an essential service for students who face the most barriers to accessing college or university in Manitoba,” said Alexandra Koslock, chairwoman of the local provincial chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students.
While Koslock indicated technical problems happen, she said it is “completely unacceptable” for them to be ongoing for weeks and in turn, impacting funding for thousands of students.
The student leader criticized the province for both failing to act immediately in the wake of the data breach to find a way to get funds to students, and for offloading responsibility onto institutions by asking learners to seek support from schools directly.
The importance of student aid has only increased in recent years, she added, citing the Tory government’s decisions to unfreeze tuition-fee caps and scrap the tuition-fee tax rebate.
“The Manitoba government is committed to supporting post-secondary students,” a provincial spokesperson wrote via email Wednesday. “The recent global technical issue, which affected many IT systems across the country, including provincial and federal student aid systems, has required time to reset the provincial system.”
The spokesperson noted the student aid process relies on a multitude of documentation on external sources, which in and of itself causes delays in any given term.
Both the students federation and the NDP have reported receiving complaints about bursary and loan delays.
The NDP critic for post-secondary education called on the provincial government to compensate each student who has been negatively impacted by this issue.
“The government needs to staff-up student aid and make sure they have the proper resources and technology to make sure these things get fixed and don’t happen again,” said MLA Jamie Moses (St. Vital).
Citing the fact it has been nearly two years since COVID-19 was confirmed in Manitoba, he added it is inexcusable Manitoba Student Aid’s office in Winnipeg is closed for in-person services.
The office, located in the Robert Fletcher Building on Portage Avenue, remained closed to the public Wednesday — despite the fact the province had removed vaccine passport requirements one day earlier in a bid to establish a “new normal.”
A provincial spokesperson indicated in-person services are slated to resume in early April.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.