Over the past few weeks we have heard a great deal about the new funding being made available to PEI’s post-secondary students through bursaries and debt-reduction programs. This is fantastic news for young Islanders who are beginning their post secondary education and those who are going to stay here on PEI after they graduate. I look forward to seeing the details of how these new programs will roll out.
I applaud this effort, but have been surprised to see Ministers pointing to this as a ‘cure all’ for the problems facing Island youth. Of course, it would be impossible for one program or initiative to address every issue. The needs of young Islanders are complex and varied. Yet, in the current sitting of the Legislature, new bursary and debt reduction programs for post-secondary students have been presented as an answer to a wide range of issues such as affordable housing for youth, low youth income levels (see Hansard April 24, pg 1921), and perhaps most confusingly, as a response to why UPEI is not covered under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP) (see Hansard April 12 2018, pg. 1561). Indeed, the new student bursary and debt relief programs were featured in Ministers’ statements three out of the four days the first full week the legislature was in session (see Hansard April 17-20). Unequivocally, this seems to be a go-to-answer for almost any question related to post-secondary education or young Islanders.
The Government deserves credit for improving access to education for youth from low and middle income families through these initiatives. This is wonderful to see and will no doubt contribute to the success of the approximately 2,200 students who are able to access some form of bursary. However, this is only one piece of a much bigger puzzle. For example, not all young people who require affordable housing or find themselves earning low wages are students, and many young people with undergraduate degrees or diplomas are unable to find full time, stable, living wage employment close to home. There are over 17,200 Islanders between the ages of 15-24 and many more who don’t fall within that age range. Creating opportunities for all of our youth requires long-term thinking toward a sustainable local economy where young people can work, innovate, and thrive. It also means reimagining what affordable housing can look like, among other things. I am hopeful that Government will keep working to create social and fiscal policy that will meet the needs of a diverse range of Islanders - to see the big picture, not just one piece of the puzzle.