Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, honourable members, good afternoon. Thank you for allowing us to appear before you.
My name is Babacar Faye and I am the president of the University of Ottawa Students' Union, UOSU. I am accompanied by my colleague, Tim Gulliver, the union's advocacy commissioner. I will present a brief profile of our student community and then talk about the conditions created by this crisis and how it affects students. I'll focus specifically on their financial situation.
I would like to begin by saying that we are very grateful to the government for its efforts to help Canadian students, as well as to Parliament and members of the opposition, who are always looking for solutions to help students overcome the challenges they face during this crisis. These actions have already alleviated many of the challenges faced by the thousands of undergraduate students represented by the UOSU.
The world has stood still during this pandemic, and the student community has been affected as well. We had to make the transition to distance learning, which created additional barriers. This is in addition to the challenges that students share with many Canadians, including loss of jobs and career opportunities, worrying about paying rent and bills, as well as the ability to buy food to put on the table.
When the Canada emergency response benefit, or CERB, was announced, many students at the end of the semester were unemployed and unable to pay their rent for the following month. In fact, a few thousand of them had to leave their homes urgently.
The Canada emergency student benefit has certainly provided some relief. However, the cost of living is not much different for the student community than for the rest of the population, and we realize that even with the Canada emergency student benefit, the situation remains uncertain for many students.
At the same time, we see the spectre of fall tuition fees looming. In order to better understand the effects of this pandemic, between May 5 and May 28, we surveyed our student population on their experiences during the crisis and its academic, financial and psychological impact. The survey determined that this crisis had a serious effect on the ability of students to cover their basic expenses.
In the Ontario context, this follows significant across-the-board cuts to student financial assistance. According to the survey, 44% of our students responded that they are worried or very worried about not being able to pay their rent, and 60% are worried or very worried about their ability to pay their tuition in the fall. It should be noted that 80% think that fall tuition fees should be reduced if all their courses are given online. In fact, 95% of courses are given online at the University of Ottawa.
We are experiencing a crisis that affects all sectors, including education and students. Although students benefit from a number of support measures, tuition fees are still a major concern. The situation is even more difficult for international students, many of whom are still in Canada because of the conditions created by this pandemic. Just yesterday we received an email from an international student who could not go home and cannot work in Canada. The airline cancelled his plane ticket and new tickets would be too expensive for his parents, who have to pay the rent. They have to choose between paying their son's school fees or putting food in his mouth. This student's situation is unfortunately no exception, and many international students find themselves in particularly difficult situations.
The limit on the number of hours that international students could work was lifted, and we applaud the government's action. However, it is still not enough. Many international students are unable to apply for the Canada emergency response benefit, even if they suffer in the aftermath of this pandemic due to the previous limitations.
Without additional government assistance, given the border closures and the various circumstances created by this crisis, international students are likely to be in a fairly precarious situation in the fall. A lot of them already are.
It would be important to consider extending and applying certain measures to assist international students, including the Canada student service grant, a scholarship program for international students or their host institutions, and the Canada emergency response benefit itself.
This reality goes beyond the simple financial framework. Many students, especially international students, face a variety of challenges, which are likely to multiply in the fall when many universities will be offering distance education courses. These challenges raise a number of questions about access to affordable and universally accessible learning materials, which my colleague Mr. Gulliver will address in his presentation.
Thank you for your attention.
I will now yield the floor to my colleague Timothy Gulliver, advocacy commissioner of the University of Ottawa Students' Union.