COVID-19 Support Bursary will be phased out after giving over $1 million to students

Campus News

Students received between $500 and $1 500 each, but some found the process confusing and delayed

David Strong building at UVic, COVID-19 support bursary
File photo by Belle White

UVic’s COVID-19 Support Bursary was an attempt to offer students some much-needed assistance at a difficult time, but some students have been left waiting for the cash to come in.

On May 22, the university announced that they would be offering support through general bursaries and the summer bursary program. The deadline for the general bursary has been extended to June 8. 

The university hopes that streamlining these two separate bursary programs will help expedite the process.

“The original plan for this bursary was for emergency needs,” said Zane Robison, Associate Registrar. “There is still money available for students and we want them to apply for these programs and make sure that they are supported through this time.”

While international students did qualify for the COVID-19 bursary, the summer bursary and general bursary programs are exclusive to Canadian residents and citizens. International students are encouraged to speak with a financial aid officer to explore their funding options. 

The COVID-19 Support Bursary

At the time of writing, the university has processed 2 014 applications and dispersed just over $1 million to students through the bursary. The support has not been immediate due to the high volume of students in need — 1 273 students are currently waiting for their applications to be processed. 

Robison said students can still apply for the COVID-19 Emergency Bursary until June 1. Those who applied for the COVID-19 bursary can also apply for the general bursary, though their financial need and the fact that they received funds already will be taken into account. 

“The number of applications received in the past five weeks exceeds the total number of bursary applications that the Student Awards and Financial Aid office receives annually,” Associate Manager of Public Affairs Paul Marck said in an e-mail interview with the Martlet on May 11.

Students can receive between $500 and $1 500 through the COVID-19 bursary, depending on the amount of bursary funds available and the expressed financial need in their application. 

The bursary was funded from multiple sources, including an initial allocation of $200 000 from UVic. The province has also lended a hand, contributing $140 000 to UVic as part of $3.5 million in funding for post-secondary institutions across B.C. to support students amid COVID-19. 

Additional donations to the grant include $50 000 in matching funds from the UVic Alumni Association, $109 318 in individual donations, and $3 000 from a donation-based Star Wars performance. The UVSS also allocated $57 000 to UVic’s bursary as the previous board voted to donate some of the society’s remaining surplus to the fund. 

Robison said the university was also able to allocate additional funds from their current budget and from ongoing donations in order to meet the one million dollar-demand for the bursary.

Students report delays and give the COVID-19 bursary process mixed reviews

Daniela Lester, a third-year health and community services major, applied for the bursary on April 3 and expressed her gratitude for the university’s support. She received about a third of the amount that she requested.

“Overall, [the bursary process] was super easy, straightforward and I found they were pretty generous,” Lester said.

In her application, Lester expressed the amount of aid she required and received a third of that. Lester accepted the bursary on April 23 and received a cheque in the mail on May 4. 

Other students found the bursary process confusing.

Abby Matheson, a third-year geography and biology student, applied for the bursary on April 9 with the hope that the bursary would help her pay rent. After not hearing back about her application, Matheson contacted UVic. On May 8, they told her she did not qualify because she had requested aid for the summer but was not registered in any classes for the summer term.

Matheson indicated that she wanted aid for the summer term because she needed to pay her rent for the summer — she ended up having to move. 

“It’s pretty confusing,” Matheson said. “I bet there’s a ton of students who did what I did, didn’t hear back, and just assumed they weren’t eligible instead of following up. It sort of feels like they don’t want to make it easy for students to get the money.” 

Specifications about summer enrollment are not clear on the application form. On the budget sheet, it asks students for a “study period.” Matheson selected the summer session, mistakenly thinking this referred to the period for which she needed funding.

When Matheson inquired about submitting another application, she was told her new application may take up to four weeks to process.

“If they are not currently taking courses in the summer semester, we are directing them to apply for the fall program,” Robison said, when asked why a student might not qualify for the COVID-19 bursary.

The bursary process was also confusing for Sophia Myers, a graduate student in the Department of Sociology. Myers applied on April 5 when she saw UVic’s announcement about the bursary. She received funding on April 20. 

“Offering better support and leniencies to students, TAs, and other precarious workers is essential,” Myers said. “$1 500 one time isn’t going to help someone long-term.” 

“This isn’t a problem that is just going to evaporate as soon as the infection rate slows down.”

One of Myers’ fellow graduate students is a mother and has yet to hear back from the bursary after applying at the beginning of May. She worries about being able to afford essentials for herself and her child, whilst still completing her graduate studies. 

UVSS Director of Outreach and University Relations Sarina de Havelyn also served on the board last year when the UVSS voted to donate funds to the bursary. 

In response to the news that the bursary was being discontinued, de Havelyn felt disappointed to see it merge so soon and believes the effects of COVID-19 warrant a separate bursary.

“A lot of people have been very positive,” de Havelyn said. “But there’s a bit of a lack of transparency as well … we are trying to make sure that UVic has a bit more transparency on their decisions surrounding COVID-19 as a whole — we’re finding a lot of students are being left in the dark.”