By: Nathaniel Tok

SFU students are finding it harder to pay their bills than their peers across the country, a recent report suggests.

The report released by Vancity found that the affordability crisis in the province is forcing BC students to work longer hours during their studies than their Canadian counterparts. The findings show that students in the province are also accumulating more debt as BC university fees climb by about 4% each year. 

Housing is a major issue facing many students who go to school in the Lower Mainland. The situation is particularly acute in Vancouver which is ranked the most expensive Canadian city to rent in, according to the accommodation website PadMapper.

“Students most often comment on affordable housing,” noted Nancy Johnston, SFU vice-provost, students and international. “We are working with the [Simon Fraser Student Society] on projects like the foodbank as another support, in addition to financial aid, for students who may find it hard to make ends meet.”

The most recent SFU undergraduate student survey reports that 55% of undergraduates were employed last year and that more than 30% of those who were employed worked more than 20 hours a week.

“Students most often comment on affordable housing.” – Nancy Johnston, SFU vice-provost students and international

SFU is not the only school in the province where students are taking on long work hours. The Vancity report found that the percentage of students enrolled in BC post-secondary institutions are who working part-time has increased from about 50% in 2003 to just under two-thirds of those in school in 2016.

Over the same time period, the hours worked by the average BC student rose to 19.3 hours per week compared to 16.4 hours just over a decade ago. Canadian students work on average approximately 18 hours per week, according to the report.  

While holding a part-time job does correlate with slightly higher grade point averages (GPAs) for students working up to 10 hours per week, the study also reports that those who work more than 31 hours each week had the lowest GPAs.

Almost half of BC students report a negative effect from working while attending university.

“Demand for mental health services is steadily climbing in most North American post-secondary institutions,” Johnston said, though she was not able to comment on if the additional stress of working while in school is contributing to the trend.

“I suspect that, depending how much work or how much school one is undertaking, there are times that doing both increases one’s stress,” she said.

“We recognize that it is expensive to live in Vancouver, and students need to think about options for funding their post-secondary education.” – Manoj Bhakthan, SFU Financial Aid and Awards

Despite the increased working hours, the report also found BC students carry more debt. Upon graduation, the average debt of students in the province has reached $30,586, compared to the national average of $26,819.

The figures are even higher for students at this university. The Canadian University Survey Consortium reports that debt upon graduation is $31,082 for SFU students.

SFU is aware that affordability issues in the region are affecting students.

“We recognize that it is expensive to live in Vancouver, and students need to think about options for funding their post-secondary education,” said Manoj Bhakthan, director of Financial Aid and Awards. “We continue to find ways to collaborate and work towards providing our students with a positive and supportive experience while they are completing their degree at SFU.”

From personal finance courses and advisors to bursaries, scholarships, partnership programs with the provincial government, and the work-study program, SFU has different programs aimed to support its student population.

“It’s always ongoing work that we do at SFU to support our students,” said Bhakthan.

Johnston added that the university tries to support its students by keeping residence fees below market rates, hiring students in Student Services, and meeting with the student societies to “ensure [they] are aware of any crises.”

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