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70 per cent of students concerned about their financial security, Statistics Canada COVID-19 survey finds

Concerns about job loss, degree completion
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An infographic by Statistics Canada shows some of the challenges faced by students during COVID-19COURTESY OF STATISTICS CANADA
An infographic by Statistics Canada shows some of the challenges faced by students during COVID-19COURTESY OF STATISTICS CANADA

In May, Statistics Canada released a study looking at the experiences and concerns that postsecondary students are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, including job loss, loss of job prospects, disruption of academic prospects, and financial worries. The results are based on crowdsourced data from surveys that over 100,000 postsecondary students filled out between April 19 and May 1.

This data provides a glimpse of respondents’ concerns and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Academics

Many large Canadian universities, including U of T, the University of British Columbia, and McGill University, moved undergraduate courses online for the 2020 winter and summer semesters.

The data showed that 75 per cent of students saw all of their courses moved online, while only two per cent of students had no courses moved online. Seven per cent of students who had all of their courses moved online said they could not complete some or all of their courses.  

Decline in employment 

The overall Canadian unemployment rate showed a steep incline from one year ago. In April 2020, the unemployment rate in Canada was 13 per cent, compared to 5.7 per cent in April 2019. Many students saw their employment plans derailed as well.

The food services industry, which employs many students, has been hit especially hard by the pandemic, with almost one in four overall job losses being in food services and drinking places. Meanwhile, a Labour Force Survey found that the employment rate for students aged 20–24 years old was 52.5 per cent in February, and declined to 29.8 per cent in April. 

The study compared participants’ employment plans at the beginning of March with their plans in April. At the time of completing the survey, more than half of respondents who already had employment later lost their jobs or were laid off, while a quarter were still working with fewer hours. Only six per cent of those with employment prospects at the beginning of March reported maintaining these prospects.

Financial stress

Canadians in general have reported stress about meeting financial obligations. In March, 17 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 64 expected major impacts on their ability to fulfill financial obligations or meet essential needs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students also reported serious concern about their future financial situation, with 70 per cent of respondents reporting that they were very or extremely concerned about the personal financial impacts of the pandemic.

Before the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) — a government initiative to provide financial support to postsecondary students dealing with unemployment due to COVID-19 — was announced, 73 per cent of respondents were very or extremely concerned about using up their savings, which lowered to 61 per cent after it was announced. 

In an interview with The Varsity, Minister of Diversity, Inclusion, and Youth Bardish Chagger acknowledged the diversity of student experiences during the pandemic. Chagger remarked that postsecondary students are “concerned about their own personal well-being as well as the well-being of loved ones in the community. So I would say that there’s a lot of issues that are on the minds of young people [and] students.”

She added that some of the main concerns that she heard from students were financial security and loss of jobs, which contributed to the development of the CESB. 

Concern about job prospects 

The survey also showed extreme concern about losing jobs in the future, and a lack of job prospects in the future. Many respondents also reported worries about being unable to pay their tuition for the following semester, their accommodation costs, and current expenses, while almost half of the participants reported concern about seeing their debt increase.

The federal government announced the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) on June 25. The grant aims to provide monetary compensation to students working on a volunteer basis in their communities, and will provide them with a one-time payment of between $1,000 and $5,000, based on how many hours they work as a volunteer. 

The initiative has been criticized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) for not allowing students to count hours retroactively and excluding international students and those over 30. According to the CFS, students looking to get the full $5,000 grant would need to work for an average of 27.8 hours per week until October 31.