Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, most NWT residents are aware of how challenging it can be for northern students to attend post-secondary education. Historically, students had to leave the NWT to pursue degrees, diplomas and trades courses. In recent years, we have developed more opportunities through Aurora College for students to either take their complete program in the NWT or to take the first year or two of a degree program. However, even with Aurora College's expanding role, most post-secondary students still leave home, moving within the NWT or to the south to pursue their choice of courses.
The Department of Education, Culture and Employment is trying to make that move easier. Through the Student Financial Assistance Program, Northerners are eligible for one of the most generous grant and loan systems in the country. The cost of attending college and university continues to climb at most campuses so we are looking at options for increasing the level of support available to each student. The department is working on the details and hopes that changes can be made for the 2000 school year. This in addition to the millennium scholarships which I announced earlier this week.
The department is also making a number of changes to improve service to students and streamline the SFA system. These changes include:
- establishing a website to provide the details on SFA that students need along with a chat page so students can contact each other;
- improving access to SFA officers for students;
- simplifying and clarifying the application form so students have a better understanding of what they will receive;
- implementing an improved computer system which will allow better record keeping and timely access to student information;
- increased information to students about the funding, including timing of cheques and what is included in each cheque; and,
- providing options for students who prefer to have a slight delay in their January payment in order to receive funds in the new tax year.
Mr. Speaker, early this summer, a group of post-secondary students gathered together to talk about their experiences with the SFA Program. They shared their issues and ideas with the department and we are trying to address their concerns. While we may not be able to address everything immediately, this type of constructive feedback from students on the program is very helpful in improving our services. I would like to thank the organizers of this group for their efforts to make the system better for all students.
Some of the concerns raised by the students were a lack of information about SFA and having no effective way for students to connect with other NWT residents at the same college or university. In an attempt to address some of those difficulties, the department is sponsoring a series of pilot events for post-secondary students over the next three weeks. In cooperation with local MLAs and community representatives, the department will be holding SFA information barbecues in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson.
At each of these events, department staff will be on hand to answer specific questions about the Student Financial Assistance Program. This will include information about the millennium scholarships. We are also inviting students who are entering their final year to share their career interests and resumes with career development officers who will be available as a first step towards finding employment in the NWT after graduation. As well, there will be opportunities for students to connect with other students who are also attending the same college or university. This is particularly helpful for first year students who may have questions that only a seasoned student can help answer.
We hope many NWT students will take advantage of this chance to get ready for school and get the additional information they might need. In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish each of our NWT post-secondary students good luck with the coming year's studies. Leaving your home, families and friends is not easy but the end result in terms of career choices will make it all worthwhile. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.