Alberta government expands New Beginnings Bursary for nursing students

Mount Royal University in Calgary on Sept. 22, 2021. The Alberta government is expanding its New Beginnings bursary for nursing students across the province. File/Global News

The Alberta government is expanding its New Beginnings Bursary for nursing students across the province.

The bursary was created last year to provide financial support to low-income students studying in qualified high-demand programs such as engineering, computer science and aircraft maintenance.

The $8.5-million expansion of the program will help up to 1,700 nursing students with a one-time, non-repayable $5,000 bursary. Recipients will be chosen from student loan applicants who meet program and financial eligibility criteria, according to Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides.

The expansion of the program aims to make post-secondary education more affordable for nursing students and help train nurses to enter Alberta’s health-care sector.

The Alberta government said the bursary as a whole will help around 3,400 low-income students in various fields by the end of the 2023-24 academic year. In all, the government said it has invested $17 million into the program.

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“Every Albertan deserves access to high-quality education. Cost should not be a barrier,” Nicolaides told reporters on Wednesday.

“Alberta’s government is working to ensure that all Albertans have the opportunity to learn and train for a rewarding career.”

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Wednesday’s announcement comes as Alberta continues to try to bring more nurses into the workforce as the health system struggles to keep up with the demand for services.

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Unions representing health professionals have said there is a nursing shortage in Alberta that amounts to a staffing crisis. At one point during labour negotiations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a nurses’ union voiced its disappointment when the province’s health authority proposed a salary rollback for nurses. A deal was later ratified that saw nurses receive pay increases.

Nancy Tran, a fourth-year nursing student at Mount Royal University, said the New Beginnings Bursary will help ease the burden that is on her and her classmates’ shoulders.

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Post-secondary education is expensive, she said, and many are working one or two part-time jobs to afford tuition and basic necessities.

“As a student, there are so many things to keep on top of both in and out of classes,” Tran said during Wednesday’s news conference.

“Financial supports, such as the New Beginnings Bursary, will alleviate (financial stress)… It means we can focus on our education when we don’t have to stress about money.”

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Opposition advanced education critic David Eggen said the expansion is “pennies on the dollar” since the United Conservative government cut funding to post-secondary education.

The UCP’s 2019 budget cut advanced education spending by five per cent compared to 2018. Funding for post-secondary education will be down 12 per cent by 2023.

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Eggen added students are facing tuition increases: most domestic undergraduate students at the University of Calgary will see a 5.5 per cent increase in their tuition fees next year.

Nursing students, however, will see an eight per cent increase.

Nicolaides did not expand on additional supports for post-secondary students, most of whom are not eligible for the province’s affordability payments program.

However, he said the government is working to find ways to provide financial support for post-secondary students.

“There are additional measures and additional supports currently being explored and discussed specifically for post-secondary students. We’ll have more in the coming weeks,” the minister said.

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