As the fall semester comes into full swing, many students are coming to terms with the harsh aftermath of what this pandemic has left, and is continuing to leave behind.
Financial hardships ran rampant this summer, but the help of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and Canada Emergency Student Benefit softened the blow of the lack of jobs on the market, getting laid off, and everything else that contributed to a summer characterized by unemployment.
With the end of these government aids, students are left with few options in terms of how to keep themselves afloat this upcoming year. There is only so much that the Ontario Student Assistance Program and other financial aid can cover for students as they pay for tuition and books. Not to mention, Toronto is a very expensive city to live in.
In the face of these hardships, U of T has been presented with the opportunity to recover from the pandemic equitably — it is, in fact, their responsibility to do so.
Cost of tuition
U of T has a few things already set up to help out students in need. One of these things is the option to defer tuition fees to a later date if you meet certain conditions. While this is helpful, the drawback is that if a student has not paid the fee by October, a 1.5 per cent interest rate will begin to accumulate per month.
If the school were to waive this interest until a much later date, it would save a lot of stress for already exhausted students. It would provide much needed security for students knowing that they have more time than a mere month to pay back the minimum payment.
In general, U of T should lower tuition across the board to reflect the fact that students are facing unprecedented financial burdens at this time. Lowering tuition is important because it allows for students to still have an equal chance at an education this year despite the financial hardships they may be facing.
Housing and financial advice
Another way that U of T can provide an equitable recovery from the effects of this pandemic is by ensuring accessibility to the many housing and financial aid services that are already in place.
Offices that provide financial, budgeting, bursary, and housing advice can be extremely hard to navigate and access. In particular, information on websites can be buried within a plethora of links and other information that takes a fair amount of time to sift through.
This poses a problem for students who may not have readily available internet access in their home — often, the only way to get this information is through the internet. U of T can address this by sending out flyers to home addresses with all of the relevant information for housing and financial advice.
For students with wi-fi, the university should hold virtual sessions where information regarding these services can be discussed, which would save time and clarify any confusion that can result from reading the information online.
Mental health services
With school, housing, financial requirements, and much more weighing on a student’s mind, mental health can become a last priority. The stress of staying afloat at a time like this is taxing, and U of T can help by investing more in counselling services and making them more accessible to all students.
Wait times, stigma, and online accessibility create strong barriers of access to counselling services during this time. U of T must invest in more mental health professionals and streamline the process of reaching out for help. The university should also make Health and Wellness available for all students, even if they were forced to take a year or semester off due to the cost of tuition.
U of T is considered home for many returning students this year. This institution has a responsibility to look after the students who put so much of their time, energy, and money into this community.
No student should be left behind during an international crisis like this pandemic, and there are many ways in which U of T can improve its policies and add new initiatives to the repertoire to fulfill the needs of students.
Sonia Uppal is fourth-year student in equity studies, anthropology, and buddhism, psychology & mental health at St. Michael’s College.