With the winter term well underway at the University of Manitoba, many students relying on student aid are still experiencing delays in receiving the funding they need.
In December 2021, Manitoba Student Aid systems were temporarily shut down to address a vulnerability in their Java software. Since several systems were unavailable, disbursement of aid was delayed to some students.
“I would say overall [I’m] very disappointed that some students are still experiencing significant delays and are still not yet in receipt of the supports from the Manitoba government for this winter term,” said Alexandra Koslock, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba.
Koslock noted the province is aware of the delay, but did not immediately provide emergency supports to students awaiting funds.
“For the government to not get the resources to students who are most in need is a failure,” Koslock said.
She pointed out Manitoba Student Aid not only supplements tuition, but also helps individuals with other expenses such as rent, child care and food.
Koslock said the capacity issue at Manitoba Student Aid is the responsibility of the minister of advanced education, skills and immigration.
“We want Minister Reyes right now to pick up the phone and connect with our colleagues from the Manitoba Student Aid office,” said Koslock.
“The student aid application process relies on waiting for a multitude of documentation from external sources — such as a signed loan agreement, pre-authorized debit agreement and academic history — which itself can cause delays,” Brent Batters, a spokesperson for Reyes, wrote in an email to the Manitoban.
Jamie Moses, MLA for St. Vital, said he is disappointed that the province has failed to provide support.
“[It’s] failed to provide adequate student aid for students, and these are students who are some of the most vulnerable who are attending post-secondary,” he said.
Koslock said delays in student aid are “a larger structural issue” resulting from a series of cuts to post-secondary education in Manitoba.
“This delay in student aid is just showing the cracks in the provincial supports for students and that students need more resources through grants and bursaries and debt relief to actually succeed in post-secondary education,” she said.
Koslock also noted “the larger issue is the offloading of responsibility” from the Manitoba government to colleges and universities.
Students have been told to connect with their student union as well as their awards departments to seek immediate help.
“The government knew that there was a [technological] breach back in […] December,” said Koslock.
“They had months to pivot and because they didn’t, they did not get supports needed to vulnerable students.”
Moses said the Student Aid office needs to open so students can easily access information and see what their options are.
“They need to look at long-term solutions in terms of [making] sure that there’s the proper resources — staffing and technology resources — available to ensure that student aid is fixed, it’s available and accessible for students and that these sorts of problems don’t happen again.”
Moses said he “shares [the] frustration” of students facing delays.
“I think [this happened] because this PC government that we have hasn’t prioritized students, hasn’t prioritized advanced education, and I think that those students who are frustrated need to let that frustration be heard by the minister and by the government who is running the student aid program and by the government who is supporting all of our post-secondary institutions in our province,” he said.
The Manitoba Student Aid office still offers appointment over the phone and will be open for in-person service April 4.