University claims to only have $300 left in Student Emergency Fund

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URSU is in conflict with campus administration again. Kate Thiessen and URSU

Figures from the Students’ union suggest otherwise

As universities all over the world continue to grapple with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the University of Regina has proven to be no different. The now formerUniversity of Regina President and Vice-Chancellor, Vianne Timmons, made it known in a recent interview with Connor O’Donovan of Global News that the university’s emergency fund has been significantly depleted.

“We give out over $40,000 a year in emergency bursaries and we’re down now to $300. We need to get out there to try and get it rebuilt. We know now that students are in real jeopardy without summer jobs,” Timmons said.

President Timmons noted that a significant portion of the applications received by the university are from single mothers and anticipates that the university will receive even more applications. Over 20 emergency funding applications have been submitted to the university since March 16, as students continue to reach out for financial support during this trying time.

Apart from catering to single mothers, Timmons also noted that the emergency fund is important in terms of catering for international students.

“We have lots of international students here that work in retail in Regina. And, we have local kids – students in Regina who depend on summer employment to help pay their tuition and they’re not going to  be able to do that. Tuition alone is $7,000,” she said.

Some have pointed out that Timmons’ acknowledgement of the financial burden that is the tuition fees of international students is an issue that can be simply addressed by reducing the additional international fee that foreign students have to pay. Granted ,the fact that the university has a significant population of international students, many of which are paying for their education by themselves, it is the hope of many that this will start a new conversation about tuition reduction. Fourth-year engineering student, Chiamaka Okorie is one of those students.

“Paying tuition as an international student at the University of Regina has been daunting on my family, especially coming from a family where only one parent is the breadwinner. With every semester, the tuition goes up by at least $500. It is so high that it is ridiculous. I am taking only three classes but I still have to pay $8,000. That makes no sense to me because, in comparison to what a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident is paying, it is so much more expensive. I pay so much more and now that there is a pandemic affecting not only Canada, but the whole world, it has become harder for my parents to afford tuition at this point,” Okorie said.

Okorie goes on to point out that even before there was a pandemic, the job restrictions as an international student were tough to deal with.

“Even me trying to help them here by working part-time, it does not account for much. I can only work for twenty hours which is barely enough to keep me afloat so it would really help if our tuition can be revisited and reduced. I just know that paying it was tough before COVID-19 and if nothing changes, it will be even tougher after,” she said.

While complaints of tuition prices, especially as it affects international students are nothing new, this alarming announcement of only having $300 left in the emergency fund is creating new waves of anxiety and concern for students. First-year Pre-med student, Uniniafore Jegede, is concerned about what the implications of what feels like yet another closing door could mean for herself and other students.

“I think it’s outrageous because obviously the emergency fund is supposed to be given on the basis of need, so for the president to announce that it is almost gone makes many who were really counting on it worried about their needs not being seen as important. What happens to all the students who have just lost their jobs and were looking to it to help them out? What about international students whose families are miles away? This could definitely lead to anxiety and depression for many of us,” Jegede said.

Jegede and other students who share her concerns, however, may not have to be as worried because there is inconsistency between Timmons’ comments and figures from the students’ union. Following a conversation with the outgoing President of the University of Regina Student Union, Victor Adeolu Oriola, it was confirmed that URSU’s current emergency fund is only five thousand dollars short of $40,000.

“Currently, URSU has $35,000 as of yesterday [March 31] in the budget to help students through the Emergency Bursary Fund . . . URSU and the President’s office amalgamated a joint emergency bursary fund that has allowed URSU to help more students experiencing emergency distress than at any point in the past. This partnership has proven timely and it means that URSU stands ready to provide support to the membership in this trying time,” Oriola said.

The agreement which Oriola is referring to is the Student Emergency Support Grant (ESF), which was signed on July 2, 2019, by Dr. Vianne Timmons, Victor Oriola, Associate Vice-President, University Advancement and Communications Lisa Mitchell; and Vice President Operations and Finance at the time, Muhammad Usman Khan.

The agreement states that the university will “continue to provide immediate financial support to students facing financial hardship that could impact their academic success. Such financial hardship includes but is not limited to food, rent, utilities, transportation, and daycare costs.”

Noteworthy is that the agreement states that one of the responsibilities of the President is “to continue to be the lead organizer of an annual fundraising event known as The Prairie Kitchen Party(or equivalent).” This would imply that this fundraising event is a major source of revenue for the Student Emergency Support Fund.

The annual event, which was slated to take place on May 9, was cancelled this year because of COVID-19 related safety measures. How then does the university intend on making up for this cancellation?

Online donations, of course. The university has set up a GoFundMe equivalent on its official website to “help provide urgently needed support to our hardworking students.”

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