Saint Mary’s University under fire for pausing on-campus employment program

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Saint Mary’s University pauses on-campus employment program
The student association at Saint Mary’s University is calling on the school to reinstate a job program that provides students with on-campus employment. The association says a pause to the program could impact the livelihood of dozens of students. Vanessa Wright explains – Mar 14, 2024

The student association at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax is calling on the school to reinstate a 20-year-old job program that has provided students with on-campus employment.

Earlier this week, the university announced it won’t be offering the SMUWorks program to students for the 2024-25 academic year. In a statement released by the Saint Mary’s University Student Association (SMUSA), it was said that the initiative allowed students to gain experience in their respective fields while assisting with living costs.

“The removal of SMUworks will deprive our students of opportunities, especially when they are already grappling with high rent, food inflation, and rising tuition costs,” the student-led group’s statement read.

The release went on to say the program’s pause contradicts the university’s “strategic plan” which aims to increase the number of undergraduate students with research experience.

Along with calling for the return of on-campus employment, the SMUSA added that it wants the university to ensure the program’s continuation won’t interfere with student’s access to scholarships, bursaries, or any other financial aid.

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Toky Tajwar, a university event coordinator who’s currently employed through the program, said his on-campus work has provided him with some extra financial security during his time at Saint Mary’s.

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“It did help me a lot during the summertime. I did have another job as well, but this was a supplement to my income that I was earning. Maybe that (the program ending) will affect a lot of students,” he said.

“I would wish that (the university) would find an alternative to this. Obviously, a lot of international students like me would be affected.”

Tajwar, an international student from Bangladesh, said he’s been organizing “Welcome Week” events for incoming students on campus since he first started his job in May 2023.

“Working on campus does help. You’re in classes but also on-campus jobs are more flexible than off-campus jobs (and help) with your studies and courses,” he said, adding that he thinks the loss of this program could negatively impact the income of students.

According to Saint Mary’s website, SMUWorks is a student employment program that provides work experience for students while building skills in the job application and interview process, in addition to offering additional financial sustainability.

Successful candidates were previously selected by faculty or their professors.

Throughout the program’s duration, students were compensated through a fixed grant. Job opportunities came with a maximum 15-hour work week for a total of 22 weeks, with some applicants receiving up to $6,171 during their total work period.

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Saint Mary’s University declined an interview request on Thursday but provided Global News with an email statement confirming the program’s pause for 2024.

“The SMUWorks program was initially designed as a student-employment program to service international students during a time that study-permit restrictions only allowed employment directly on campus,” read a written statement from Margaret Murphy, the university’s associate vice-president of external affairs.

“Currently, the university is looking at other work-study options which would help link our students with various experiential and research opportunities within academic units and programs.”

As for Tajwar, he says although he’ll be graduating from his finance program in June, he’s hopeful that the university will continue being able to employ students in the years ahead.

“I just hope the university will do what’s best for its students and itself,” he said.

— with files from Global News’ Vanessa Wright

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