As Chandra mentioned in her farewell blog last month, I have now finished my internship at CPJ and am currently studying public policy at Concordia University in Montreal. I will still be blogging regularly, however, and hope to continue engaging with and discussing issues of public justice throughout the coming year.
During the last few weeks of August, I was reflecting on my return to university when an article in the Globe and Mail caught my attention. Dave McGinns had written a piece describing some of the creative strategies used by university students to stretch out their often meager food budgets throughout the school year. I thought some of his ideas – which included using coupons and taking advantage of student discounts – were pretty practical. But the article also made me reflect about the very real challenges that many students face in meeting basic needs such as food while pursuing their studies.
Many people who have gone through post-secondary school have had the experience of staring into a sparse cupboard at one point or another. Often – as McGinns amusingly recounts – these moments come with a life lesson in budget management so that partying and entertainment don’t eat up (pun intended) the grocery money.
But underlying his lighthearted article is a more concerning reality. Over the past two decades, tuition and living costs for students has risen substantially. For many students, affording food has become not simply a question of money management, but of having enough money at all.
McGinns’ article cites an Ipsus-Reid poll released this past June that found that “half of all students surveyed expect to run out of money entirely before the [approaching] school year ends.” And with youth unemployment at a record high this summer – over 20 per cent, this school year will undoubtedly prove to be even more financially challenging than most for many students.
As I highlighted in my blog on student debt in Canada a few months ago, tuition fees have risen over four times faster than the rate of inflation in the past decade. Unsurprisingly, student debt in Canada has climbed as well, recently passing the $13 billion mark.
The rising cost of higher education has been followed by an increase in community supports for students who are experiencing hunger as a result of inadequate income. There are now over 51 food banks operating on university campuses across the country. A few floors down from my own university department, a student soup kitchen offers a free hot lunch for anyone who needs a meal.
Community services such as these play an important role in alleviating hunger. But they only offer a short-term solution to a deeper, more systemic need for policies that ensure students can meet their basic needs. Greater subsidization of higher education and more employment opportunities that offer a living wage could help strengthen income security for many students and ensure they do not go hungry while pursuing their studies.