Adjustments in student aid cause confusion at the university

Less money and different disbursal methods leave students scratching their heads

Without a bursary he had counted on, Florent Thezard has had to work more, spend less and make do with different, cheaper editions of textbooks than the ones his courses actually assigned. Kaitlyn Emslie Farrell

Changes in application processes and availability of student awards at the University of Winnipeg have left some students puzzled over what awards are still available to them.

Florent Thezard, an international student in his third year of athletic therapy, had received an international student bursary twice before. When he attempted to apply for it in the fall of 2011, he was told it was not available.

Due to a miscommunication, Thezard understood the bursary was no longer being offered to international students.

“My friend told me it was done, I double checked, got bummed out and tried to find other ways to get the money,” said Thezard.

Thezard had received a $1,200 bursary one year, and $500 the next semester.

Without that money, Thezard works more, spends less and makes do with different, cheaper editions of textbooks than the ones his courses actually assigned.

“I’m very grateful to have received (the bursary) for a couple years, but there is disappointment,” said Thezard.

Kam Holland, director of awards and financial aid, attributed Thezard’s confusion to changes in timing of bursary awards, decreased money in the student aid program, and lack of clarity in the application process.

While Holland was hired as director six months ago, she managed scholarships and awards at York University for nearly 15 years before this.

She is working to adjust aid application processes and award schedules to better suit students’ needs.

This year, Holland arranged for awards from the International Student Bursary Program to be given out in larger sums at the beginning of the fall semester only, instead of in smaller portions in both fall and winter semesters.

“We wanted to assist students with front-end expenses. It was all offered in the fall because that’s when tuition was due. That’s when they buy their books, when they need their first and last month’s rent,” said Holland.

The general scholarships are really intimidating. I just haven’t been daring enough to do it.

Adrian Werner, fifth-year geography student

Holland said fluctuations in the market have severely decreased the amount of money available for student aid.

The university generates scholarship money by investing endowments in the stock market.

Before the stock market crashed in 2008, it was common to have a five per cent return on an endowment available for awards. Now, less than 3.5 per cent of the returns are available for awards, according to Holland.

In recent years, more awards have been created, but there is less money available per award given out, she said.

“It’s not like there’s less money available to students, but there’s less money per award available. What once was a $5,000 award is now a $3,500 award,” said Holland.

An overhaul of the awards website later this year will improve the ease of the awards application process, said Holland.

Adrian Werner, a fifth-year geography student, said the scholarship applications process at the university seems daunting. He has been nominated for awards before, and is thankful he has never had to apply for one.

“The general scholarships are really intimidating. I just haven’t been daring enough to do it. Deadlines have been hard to find,” he said.

Improving access to bursaries and needs-based awards could ensure the university is accessible to all, Werner added.

“Even to have a low-income scholarship so you’re not hurting the people who really do need to go to university and deserve the access that everyone has ... might be a wiser funding structure,” he said.

With files from Ethan Cabel

Published in Volume 66, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 14, 2012)

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