HALIFAX – Students and student advocates in Nova Scotia lined up Monday night to tell the government exactly what they think about the elimination of the graduate retention rebate.
The Liberals’ most recent budget replaced the nearly $50 million rebate program with other, less costly programs that encourage employers to hire graduates.
About 75 people turned up at Province House to participate in the Law Amendments Meeting and challenge the government on the move.
Students say money from the former rebate program is not being re-directed into other initiatives to help them.
“That’s a really negative step,” said Jonathan Williams, president of Students NS.
“That’s really unfortunate, coming after the Ivany Report, saying Nova Scotia needs to act now on population challenges, keeping young people here and attracting young people here to this province.”
The rebate was worth $2,500 to university students and $1,500 to college students annually for several years after graduation. It was designed to incentivize young people to stay in the province.
However the province decided the rebate did not help with retention and scrapped the rebate on January 1, 2014.
There seemed to be a consensus among the speakers that the rebate was not a great idea in the first place, but they say it’s the principle of taking money away from an already hurting demographic.
They want the province to divert money from the rebate program into upfront grants, wage subsidies and other initiatives.
“A holistic and robust youth retention plan, investing into jobs for youth, investing into entrepreneurships and business, also in study period assistance for students can actually access post-secondary education without the debt,” said St. FX student Amy Brierley.
Some students say the province is not taking them seriously, with Brian Foster, the communications director for Students NS, adding there would be hell to pay if the government had done this to another industry.
Many students say it sends a negative message to young people that their province does not care about them.
“We want to keep graduates here. We want to see this province grow as a whole and as a community,” said Alexander Elderkin, the incoming president of the student association at NSCC Kingstec.
“The government, what they’re doing now in making decisions like this, it sends the wrong message.”
“Eliminating the graduate retention rebate shows a lack of investment into that youth cohort,” Brierley said.
There were mixed comments on how the elimination of the rebate would impact decisions to move elsewhere.
Karen Foster, a sociologist, said the rebate may not be a deciding factor for many students but it does become a chunk of money they are not able to then invest into the Nova Scotian economy.
Whereas Aaron Beale, the outgoing vice president for the Dalhousie Student Union, said it is likely more and more students will pack their bags and move out west as a result of growing student debt.
Nova Scotia is struggling with how to keep young people within its border, and students say it needs to figure something out soon before there isn’t anyone else left here.
“We’re losing young people every year. Just saying what we’re doing already isn’t working is not enough. We have to be doing things that actually work,” Williams said.