The rising cost of living is hitting many post-secondary students hard. Working more, using food banks, getting into debt up to their necks, these are some of the strategies they are implementing to make ends meet. First in a series of texts on student precariousness in times of inflation.
Every Thursday, part of the second floor of the Judith-Jasmin pavilion at UQAM is transformed into a small grocery store. Pasta, rice, eggs, dairy products, bread, meat, vegetarian proteins, fruits and vegetables and even animal food… For $10, 200 registered students can put together their bag of foodstuffs provided largely by Moisson Montréal, likely to feed them throughout the week.
“We open registrations on Friday for distribution the following Thursday, and it’s full every week. We have just started to create a waiting list, explains Lily Truchon, operations coordinator at the Sphere of services, which takes care of the food bin. We always refuse people who show up on site. »
This service, in place since 2020, delights the young adults who benefit from it. “There are things that we can’t afford but which are very practical, like sanitary napkins,” notes Wendy Chenevier, a French event design student.
Behind a counter, Jeanne Canuel volunteers to distribute refrigerated food requested by her comrades. She uses this help herself, which she finds “really relevant and necessary”. ” It helps me a lot. It’s easier to make ends meet and pay my rent,” she says.
Like many people met there, Mme Canuel works in addition to studying full time. “I have no choice, otherwise it wouldn’t be possible to pay my bills,” says the human resources management student, who says she works 20 to 25 hours a week.
It’s a challenge to work a reasonable number of hours to concentrate on your studies, according to Oksana Caufriez. The master’s degree student in theater is concerned that the cost of living will continue to rise. “If I have to work more, I don’t know how I could maintain a full-time master’s degree,” reports the woman who works in a restaurant at least three evenings a week.
In addition to the food bank, Mme Caufriez uses the Too Good To Go application, which allows you to obtain unsold items from various businesses.
Between hunger and stress
At both college and university levels, student associations and several educational establishments have noted an increase in financial stress experienced by students and requests for assistance in one year. To respond, they added or improved financial or food support programs.
“When we ask our young people: “What is causing you stress?”, what comes up first is financial anxiety! » relates the director of the Fédération des cégeps, Bernard Tremblay.
“There are housing issues, the cost of living is increasing, especially at the grocery store… And our students – we know – have very low incomes, so they are directly impacted by that,” he explains. .
At the University of Sherbrooke, the number of requests for food assistance increased by 36% compared to last year, notes Amélie Corbeil, director of the Department of Financial Aid for Student Life Services at the University of Sherbrooke. university.
Among the clientele, there are students eligible for loans and scholarships, but who are still unable to live decently. Or even international students, who cannot benefit from government aid.
Same observation at the École de Technologie Supérieure, where requests for help from the food bank increased by 30% between fall 2021 and fall 2023. Furthermore, without having broadened its criteria, the establishment observed in one year a spectacular jump in the amount granted to students through its emergency fund.
“When they are in difficulty, we have an advisor and a technician who analyze their income, their expenses, the situations in their lives that mean they cannot make ends meet. We give them an amount that allows them to get their heads above water,” explains Catherine Tremblay, interim director of Student Life Services. She says there have been “more stories, more needs” over the past year. Financial education workshops are more popular than ever.
Effects on academic success
A research file recently published by the Observatory on Success in Higher Education (ORES) recalls that food insecurity is “higher among the student population than in the rest of the working population”, but that this population “does not not the subject of particular attention in provincial and federal food security policies.
Furthermore, data from the Work Unit for the Implementation of Student Housing reports that the median rent for Montreal student tenants is higher than for the general population, while half of them have incomes below 20 $000 per year.
In the greater Montreal area, the average rent for housing available for rental is around $1,270, according to a recent FRAPRU study. However, Amélie Tollu, a French master’s student in management sciences at UQAM, and her little sister, studying biochemistry at the University of Montreal, found nothing below $1,500 — an amount that corresponds to their current rent — due to lack of Quebec guarantors and sufficient credit history.
“There is just one room, which I occupy. And my little sister, who pays her share a little less, sleeps in the living room,” says Amélie.
“Our parents cannot help us financially. Fortunately, I receive an involvement grant through my work in the student association. I also work hours as a research assistant. But I have difficulty managing everything: work, the association, studies,” says the student.
If Amélie manages to maintain good academic results, this is not the case for everyone in her situation. According to ORES, financial stress is likely to have significant negative effects on academic success. It also reports that beyond 25 hours worked, the risk of not completing their program of study increases for full-time students.
“More and more students are working many hours to meet their needs and that is affecting their results in class,” notes Laurence Mallette-Léonard, president of the Quebec College Student Federation.
However, there are solutions, underline the authors of the ORES file. Among them, there is remuneration or financial compensation for study internships. It is also suggested that student financial aid programs be adapted so that they better reflect the current cost of living for students.