Education is the best path to a bright future

Doug Graham, MLA for Porter Creek North

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, April 29, 2016
by Doug Graham, Minister of Education

In our 2011 platform document, Moving Forward Together, our government made a commitment to provide Yukon students with the fundamental skills necessary to prepare them for jobs, responsible citizenship and life-long learning. This is an important part of our overall vision for a better quality of life for Yukoners.

We believe that education is key to developing an inclusive, adaptable, and productive workforce that contributes to and strengthens the Yukon’s economy. We call it “educating today for jobs tomorrow.”

We also committed to improving access to funding that makes post-secondary studies more affordable for Yukon students.

For this reason, we introduced a new Students Financial Assistance Act in the Yukon Legislative Assembly earlier this month. The revised act includes significant changes to the rules governing the Yukon Grant.

For decades, the Yukon Grant has provided Yukon students with the financial assistance they need to pursue post-secondary studies. I personally benefitted from the grant when I attended university in the 1960s, as have tens of thousands of Yukoners.

Last year alone, the grant provided more than $3.4 million in non-repayable grants to 726 students.

Currently, the Yukon Grant provides students with $1870 per semester or $1247 per quarter, depending on the length of the academic year. Students can receive up to 10 semesters of funding over their lifetime, provided they continue to meet eligibility requirements.

Under the new act, the Yukon Grant will pay students $135 for each week they are enrolled in school, to a maximum of 170 weeks.

This change to the payment schedule will result in an annual funding increase for most students enrolled in a typical two-semester, full-time program. It will also benefit students who are enrolled in programs that run longer than eight months per year, who are currently put at a disadvantage by the semester-based system.

The amendments will also provide additional funding to residents of the territory attending Yukon College. Students who are enrolled in typical thirty-four week program will see a grant increase of $850.

The Yukon Grant also currently provides an annual travel allowance of $1800 for students who are studying outside the territory. The new act will reduce this amount to $1500 per year, but this reduction is offset by the above-mentioned increase to the grant.

Overall, these changes will increase the financial assistance available to Yukon students by $376,000 in the coming year – an increase of more than ten per cent over 2014/15.

These changes to the legislation include more than a simple funding increase.

Under the proposed amendments, to be eligible for the Yukon Grant students must have completed at least two years of high school (or the equivalent) in Yukon, and they or their parents must be residents of Yukon.

And students who lived in Yukon for their high school years, but who did not attend or complete high school, will also be eligible to receive funding if they meet post-secondary entrance requirements and the other eligibility requirements that all students must meet to receive the Yukon Grant.

These changes represent a significant change to the eligibility requirements, ensuring that funding is distributed in a flexible and equitable way to current and future Yukon post-secondary students.

The new act also expands eligibility for the Yukon Grant to more First Nations citizens. Currently, the citizens of First Nations who receive post-secondary education funding through the Government of Canada are not eligible for the Yukon Grant. These changes will ensure that all Yukon First Nations students who meet eligibility requirements are able to receive financial assistance through the Yukon Grant.

When the act was tabled, Kluane First Nation Chief Math’ieya Alatini noted that it “reflects a huge improvement in the legislation,” demonstrating the importance of post-secondary education to Yukon’s future.

We brought this new act forward following extensive consultation with students, their families, First Nation governments and other stakeholders.

We listened to Yukoners, and we believe these changes to student financial assistance will ensure that more students can pursue their goals of a better education and a brighter future.