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Open Letter to Minister Gerry Byrne on his recent comments concerning part-time students

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Dear Minister Byrne (Advanced Education and Skills),

I am writing to express my deep concern about your recent comments to the media surrounding the post-secondary grants program. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the Town Hall at Grenfell Campus which students organized on Sunday in opposition to the cuts to needs-based grants, but I have since seen your statements to NTV following the event in which you insinuate that part-time students are “obviously earning income outside” and are therefore “able to augment their own educational requirements”.

Over past several years, as both an undergraduate and now as a graduate student at Memorial University, I have had the pleasure to speak with many part-time students about their reasons for choosing that route. Of those I spoke to, many cited three reasons in particular. The first was that they had to take a part-time approach because they could not financially afford to be a full-time student, and needed to work to make ends meet. The second was because the student had dependants (i.e. family) who they also had to provide for, and therefore could not devote all of their time to full-time studies. Finally mental health was, and is, also a key concern in this respect and is directly related to the other two as it so often puts students in a financially insecure situation, particularly if they are living on or near the poverty line and caring for others while trying to get an education.

Many full-time students also have to take on jobs in order to help pay bills and afford the price of their education. Such is the current financial barrier many in our province face while attempting to get a high quality education.

Hard choices about how time should be spent are a common theme in the lives of students today: should we spend our time to secure our grades and fail to pay rent as a result? Or should we devote our time to a job to put food on the table only to watch our grades fall as a result?

Part-time students should not be punished for making the decisions necessary for themselves and their families to survive and to have a chance at a better future. We should be making education more accessible to all students of all backgrounds and situations, not less.

In its overall approach to the province’s economic situation this government seems intent on placing the burden upon those least able to bear it, and who are least responsible for it. This recent attempt to draw lines between students is indicative of an argument made in desperation to somehow justify an unjustifiable action.

Helping people gain an education, no matter what time frame they have to do this, benefits our people and our economy, something this government seems to have a great deal of difficulty understanding. As students many of us are actively researching topics like economic diversification and the kinds of solutions our province needs. Many of those people also have families, and financial situations that don’t necessarily conform to naïve neoliberal economic idealism.

These students will be the leaders of tomorrow, and they will remember your government and party for the actions it takes now.

Conor Curtis
Graduate Student at Memorial University

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