The rising cost of living is hitting many Nova Scotians hard, but it’s even harder for students, who are grappling with paying tuition, the increasing cost of groceries, and finding housing in a market experiencing an extreme shortage so dire it led to the province instituting a rent cap.
International students face these same challenges, but “a lot more of the inequities” on top of that, such as higher tuition rates, says Kris Reppas, the Nova Scotia chair of the Canadian Federation of Students.
“All of this is going to impact their mental health,” Reppas says. “If you’re worried about housing, if you’re worried about being able to afford basic necessities or even just trying to afford your education and your tuition, all of these are going to impact student mental health… we need to consider how all of these are impacting and how all of these are going to have to be part of the solution to improve student mental health.”
Some of the measures the Canadian Federation of Students is advocating for are permanent rent control, $20 per hour minimum wage, and having the provincial government work with internet providers to have low-cost, high-speed internet packages for students.
At the institution level, universities are taking different steps to help students. Saint Mary’s University is provided nearly $9 million in direct support to students through scholarships, fellowships, and bursaries this year, says spokesperson Cale Loney. Almost 1,000 student bursaries were awarded during this time, nearly doubling the previous year’s amount.
“The university also created the COVID-19 Student Financial Relief Fund to respond to the unforeseen challenges facing students at the beginning of the pandemic,” he wrote in an email.
Acadia University says it’s rural setting in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley has more independently-owned and operated apartments and units, which typically leads to more affordable monthly rent for students.
Liam Dutton, the university’s director of student enrollment, says in the student accommodation areas, rents for Wolfville and the surrounding region can be around $400 to $500 per month per room.
“The University offers various landlords’ contact information to help international students get situated for the following year,” he writes in an email. “Several community members/landlords really go out of their way to help these students adjust to living in Canada and support them throughout their time on and off-campus.”
Minister of Advanced Education Brian Wong recognizes the financial challenges students are coping with, especially international ones. He says the affordable housing issue is something the province is taking steps to fix.
“Once we increase our housing stock, then prices will come down,” he says.
Since the PCs took office last summer, they’ve extended the two per cent rent cap first introduced by the former governing Liberals by almost two years, until the end of 2023. The province also announced it will spend about $35 million on 1,100 affordable housing units throughout Nova Scotia. It also says it will build new residences at three NSCC campuses and create a province wide student housing strategy.
Wong says nursing students graduating within the next five years will be offered a job in the province.
He says for students looking to start businesses after graduation, there are programs in place to help them get started.
“Nova Scotia is a great place to study, work, and raise a family,” Wong says.