Nunavut college students say problems persist with funding program

Debbie Tookanachiak and Jaydene Pilakapsi are both students at Nunavut Arctic College. They say they’re still having issues with the territory’s main student aid program, months after the government promised to improve it. (David Gunn/CBC)

Some Arctic College students in Nunavut say they want more certainty and communication from the territory’s main student funding program, after late payments left them wondering how they would put food on the table.

The Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students program — commonly known as FANS — has been plagued by problems for years, with students reportedly going hungry, turning to social media for food and having their enrolment jeopardized because they can’t pay tuition.

Debbie Tookanachiak, who is taking the teacher education program at Arctic College in Iqaluit, said FANS doesn’t provide funding quickly enough, and the funding students do get isn’t enough to cover necessities like food and rent.

Tookanachiak said she saved up money from her work with the Agnico Eagle gold mine near Baker Lake to help cover the costs of living in Iqaluit until her student funding kicked in.

She arrived in Iqaluit Aug. 22 and waited weeks for FANS to issue her funding.

A view of Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit. (David Gunn/CBC)

“It’s going to be very difficult, because most of us are single moms, or with a lot of children that come with us,” she said.

“I think it’s very scary and very difficult for us parents.”

The FANS office requires specific paperwork to be filed, which can make the process to get funding a long one. It’s created so many issues that Nunavut’s education minister apologized in January and promised to investigate and improve the program.

Jaydene Pilakapsi said she struggled without a second source of income, wondering how she was going to feed her family before she finally received her first payment through FANS.

She said she was relying on the college’s food bank to get by after she arrived in Iqaluit with her spouse and four-year-old daughter.

“[It] was difficult. I was struggling so much … I was constantly asking, ‘OK — we’re eating. What is going to be my next meal, and how am I going to get it?'”

She also waited weeks to receive her first round of funding. She said she sent emails to FANS asking for updates and called them without ever hearing back — silence that was stressful to wait through.

She eventually reached out to other students on social media to see if they, too, were experiencing problems.

“They all agreed that they were all waiting,” she said.

“It felt like it was forever.”

Pilakapsi is worried this will be an ongoing issue with student funding, after hearing from former students who experienced the same problems.

She said she’d like to see regional offices established for the FANS program.

“Our territory is growing. Everybody is pursuing their education,” she said, adding it hurts the territory as a whole when students can’t complete their education due to financial hardship.

“I hope that [the program] changes.”

The FANS office could not be reached for comment.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Post-secondary education offered in Nunavik, Quebec would be a game changer, says school board, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Project to educate Finnish students about Sami needs to be permanent: Youth Council, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Sami education conference looks at how to better serve Indigenous children, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Can cross-border cooperation help decolonize Sami-language education?, Eye on the Arctic

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