Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, esteemed committee members and fellow witnesses. I would like to begin my statement by acknowledging that I speak to you today from Mi'kma'ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq people.
My name is Bryn de Chastelain. I am the chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, or CASA. I am also president of the Saint Mary's University Students' Association and a fourth-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in political science and economics.
CASA is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that represents over 275,000 students at colleges, polytechnics and universities from coast to coast. Through a formal partnership with the Union étudiante du Québec, with which I will be sharing time today, we are a trusted national student voice.
CASA has been at the forefront of student advocacy efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We've been clear that students, like other Canadians, have been hit hard by the pandemic's economic and social impacts. At a uniquely vulnerable point in their lives, students have been blindsided by lost income, online classes, a summer of isolation and bleak job prospects following graduation.
Thankfully, on April 22, the federal government responded to our calls for support with a generous and significant student aid package. As a student leader, I would like to express my gratitude for this immediate and considerable support, which was extraordinarily necessary in these unprecedented times. Many students are now seeing immediate support from either the Canada emergency response benefit or the Canada emergency student benefit, which together are providing an irreplaceable stopgap for students. These benefits are helping students to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, and we thank you for that.
I would also like to highlight the generous additions to both the Canada student grants and the Canada student loans, which were also announced on April 22. These improvements will help ensure that many students in Canada can continue to access and afford their education despite COVID-19-related hardship. These supports are welcomed by students across Canada, but not everybody has access to them.
I would particularly like to highlight the lack of support available for international students during this quarantine period. Let's not forget that international students in Canada contribute an estimated $21.6 billion to Canada's GDP and support almost 170,000 jobs. On top of that, many international students in Canada plan to stay and contribute to our economy once they have graduated. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, 60% of international students in Canada plan to apply for permanent residency once they graduate from school. Many also continue to live and work in Canada over the summer between semesters, and the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed them of their opportunity to support themselves.
These international students are stuck in Canada with no job prospects, with groceries and rent to pay for, and with little financial support from the federal government. As it stands, international students are ineligible for the Canada emergency student benefit, meaning that those who have made less than $5,000 in the past year are left without access to desperately needed assistance. The Canada emergency response benefit is available to international students, but the Canada emergency student benefit is not, and we see that as fundamentally unfair. Many international students cannot work while in school and have lost the opportunity to do so over the summer. They need support, and we're asking the federal government to leave no student in Canada behind.
Now, despite this gap surrounding international students, CASA is strongly supportive of the federal government's overall student aid efforts thus far. Looking forward, however, we at CASA are hearing that students are still very worried about their finances and their health, as well as the quality and accessibility of the upcoming digital semester. According to a recent poll that we at CASA commissioned, 77% of students in Canada report being considerably stressed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We're stressed about what the pandemic means for our future, about the health of our loved ones and about finding employment after graduation.
Students are reporting significant financial hardship despite the relief provided by the CERB and the CESB. Close to 70% of students in Canada say their summer employment plans have been negatively affected by COVID-19. Of that 70%, four in 10 say they've lost all of their regular summer income due to the pandemic, while 43% say they will be relying more on government loans to pay for the upcoming school year, and 59% say they are just as worried about covering their living expenses in January as they are today.
Students are seeing real financial hardship on the horizon, and that's why CASA is calling on the government to consider additional support for students beyond September 2020. Specifically, we are asking the government to extend the six-month interest-free moratorium on federal student loan payments past September 30, 2020.
Now, beyond financial concerns, CASA is also hearing that many students are second-guessing whether school in the fall is even worth it, given the less-than-ideal digital environment. Our data tells us that 39% of students have considered deferring or have already deferred their fall semester. Along with this, 31% have also considered switching or have already switched from full-time to part-time studies.
Students are rightly worried about the quality and accessibility of their classes in the fall, and we think the federal government can do more to ensure that our next semester is a success.
According to the CRTC, only 64% of rural residents have access to broadband Internet fast enough to sustainably access the kind of video conferencing applications used for online learning, compared to 100% of urban residents. The OECD also ranks Canada in the top 10 of the most expensive countries for broadband Internet access when adjusted for cost of living.
In the 2019 election, the Liberals promised to ensure that every Canadian would have access to high-speed Internet by 2030. CASA urges the federal government to accelerate this timeline and move forward with immediate steps to ensure that all post-secondary students have adequate access to reliable and high-speed Internet in time for school this fall.
Finally, we know that success in a digital classroom hinges on having the suitable technology to succeed. Digital learning, while necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic, will place the burden of possessing sufficient technology, like computers, on post-secondary students. According to our polling, almost 50% of students in Canada highlighted having the technology they need as a primary concern entering next semester.
That's why we're also calling on the federal government to ensure that all students have sufficient access to digital technology. Specifically, we're asking the government to commit additional funding to provide appropriate digital technology to any low-income student who needs it.
I would like to thank the committee once again for the invitation to come and testify and represent the voice of Canadian students.
I will now turn the floor over to my colleague Jade Marcil of the Quebec Student Union, and I look forward to answering your questions.