Thank you very much.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, distinguished members and fellow witnesses. Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with you today.
My name is Matt Reesor. I am the president of the University Students' Council at Western University. Alongside me here today is our vice-president of external affairs, Mackenzy Metcalfe.
I represent the interests of 30,000 undergraduate students on our university campus. Personally, I would like to thank the Government of Canada for the action that has already been taken to support post-secondary students. The aid package has provided much-needed financial support for many of us. We greatly appreciate your consultation with post-secondary students on the government's response to COVID-19, and are excited to see it continue throughout the rebuilding process.
As I'm sure many, if not all of you, have experienced, COVID-19 has transformed our lives as we know it. This March as our university classes moved online, Western students experienced a shared sentiment of uncertainty. As we attempt to understand the new normal that we are living in, concerns about the state of our academic and co-curricular experiences, the quality and accessibility of post-secondary education, and our ability to maintain social connectedness continue to stress the vast majority of students.
Looking back and reflecting on the early days of the COVID-19 response, many of us had no idea where our society would be in one week, let alone three months.
As we sit here today in London, local restrictions have been lifted and we are starting down the path towards the new normal. We are only certain of one thing: our lives will change forever as a result of this pandemic. It is my opinion that we are still unsure of what the change will be, and I think we need to take time to reflect before setting a course forward.
With that in mind, I will be focusing the rest of my time to speak on what I know for sure, and that is how students are dealing with COVID-19 right now.
Throughout this time, our biggest priority has been supporting our students. The USC is continually engaging with students through candid conversations and formalized feedback, and we would like to take this time to share their stories.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with a second-year social science student at Western University who was living away from their hometown. The student expressed immense gratitude for the financial support provided by the Canada emergency student benefit, which has helped mitigate their financial concerns for this summer. In the same conversation, however, the student expressed anxieties about the looming expenses of heading back to school this fall. Like many students, this individual works throughout the summers and nearly all evenings to fund their tuition, school supplies, rent, food and personal necessities.
Over the past several years, the student has not had much trouble finding jobs at home or in London. But this year as COVID-19 hit, this process has become much more difficult. This student has already signed a twelve-month lease they're now responsible for. Their parents have not been able to provide financial support for the past couple of years. This individual currently has enough money to pay for the first two months of rent on a new lease, but will rely on summer employment to pay for anything past that. The student is not sure how they will be able to afford rent in a few months, not to mention another year of tuition and the other list of expenses.
We appreciate the action the government has already taken to support students financially for the 2020-21 academic year. We request that the doubling of the Canada students grant and the removal of expected students and spouses contributions be extended to the 2021-22 academic year.
We've also heard concerns from many of our international students, some of whom have been unable to head home due to travel restrictions. Our international students pay considerable tuition fees and remain unable to access the CESB. We request that the government expand a pre-existing program or develop a new program to address financial concerns for these international students.
As a recent graduate, I can attest to the uncertainty of the job market. A recent survey by StatsCan has shown that almost one-third of students who had secure jobs prior to March 2020 have now lost them. The students of today are the workforce of tomorrow, and I know that the vast majority of students would take advantage of opportunities to engage in meaningful, skills-based work experience this summer and beyond.
As things continue to evolve in the coming months, we hope that the Government of Canada will continue to consult regularly with post-secondary students across the country to hear out their concerns and engage with their perspectives.
I think I speak for all student leaders when I say that we have the energy, the passion and the expertise required to inform your response to COVID-19 moving forward.
Mackenzy and I look forward to taking your questions.