The University of Alberta Students’ Union is increasing financial aid available to students and expanding options for better health and dental care plans.
Over the next five years, an additional $750,000 will be redirected to the U of A Access Fund — a bursary which helps students facing difficult financial situations, like being ineligible for student loans. The money, which will be available starting September 2020, will help those with precarious financial situations cover the cost of the Students’ Union (SU) membership and dedicated fees. The remainder of the funding will be directed towards bursaries for students from groups facing particular financial pressures, such as students who parent, those with disabilities, and students who work on unpaid internships.
Additionally, the SU unveiled new upcoming coverage options for its health and dental plan.
Both sets of announcements were made on February 13 through a press release.
Since 1995, the U of A Access Fund has helped students facing difficult circumstances continue with their studies. Currently, students pay $14.56 per term towards the fund. Supported by a voluntary dedicated fee, the fund provides assistance to those who require the greatest need. According to the SU, students who apply for the new bursaries will remain eligible even if they have reached their maximum allocation of emergency bursaries from the Access Fund.
The press release said that the SU “successfully advocated to the university to increase accessibility to Access Fund financial aid.” The money collected by the SU through the dedicated funding unit is dispersed by the Registrar’s Office.
SU president Akanksha Bhatnagar said the move to increase financial aid was a result of student feedback and the changes happening because of the provincial government’s fall budget.
“By providing additional financial support to those students in the greatest financial need, we are doing what we directly can to fill a gap that the government created by slashing student financial aid,” she said.
“Given the growing financial pressures that students will face as the government and university drastically hike costs over the coming years, it was incredibly important that the University of Alberta Students’ Union push for immediate action to help those students with the greatest need,” she added.
“These bursaries may be the piece that allow some students to continue with their studies instead of having to take time off or dropping out entirely.”
Bhatnagar said while these measures help, “more work” will need to be done in the future to lower the burden of increased tuition.
Tiered health and dental plans will aid students in finding coverage that suits them, says Bhatnagar
The SU will also be adding a tiered system for health and dental care benefits it offers to students. The healthcare plans are optional for students.
A basic health and dental plan, as an alternative to the comprehensive plan, will be offered. This option is said to better suit students who infrequently access their health or dental benefits or use their plan in conjunction with another. The SU said this option will save students at least $50 per year.
In another first for the SU, access to critical illness and life insurance will be offered as an optional supplement to either the basic or comprehensive plans. The cost for this option is estimated to be less than $15 a month.
The press release said offering these products will help bridge a current “coverage gap” where many students and dependents are unable to access these forms of insurance products.
Bhatnagar said the current single option may not meet the needs of all students, while the new tiered options and supplements will allow for better flexibility.
“By introducing these new options, we are giving our members greater choice in picking the coverage that is right for them while keeping costs substantially lower than external insurance offerings,” she said.