Technology upgrade to Alberta government scholarship program worries students

EDMONTON — Some students are facing uncertainty after changes were made to an application process for Government of Alberta scholarships and awards — although the province’s largest scholarship has now opened for applications.

Applications are normally submitted in early August, but those for the 2019-2020 school year were not being made available for a few more months.

The Alberta Student Aid website says a major technology upgrade expected to be complete by late autumn will streamline the application and payment process for scholarships and awards.

One of the programs affected was the Alexander Rutherford Scholarship, a $40-million program that recognizes the academic achievement of high school students and is meant to encourage post-secondary studies.

The scholarship, which is named after Alberta’s first premier and minister of education, can be worth up to $2,500 per student.

After concerns were raised on the weekend, Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says the Rutherford Scholarship is now accepting applications.

“Students and parents can rest assured that all eligible students will receive their awards on time and as normal without any delay or interruption,” Nicolaides said in a statement Tuesday. “I want to be clear: the Rutherford Scholarship should never have been affected by the technology upgrade.

“There was miscommunication within the department and when I found out, I took immediate steps to address the issue to ensure that this important service is available to students across Alberta.”

Students heading into their first year of university in a few weeks said the uncertainty was a concern for them.

“This is a really big deal for me because I’ve worked through school,” said student Levi Harasem-Mitchell. “It means I’m going to be working a lot more over the school year. I’m probably going to take less classes.”

The Opposition NDP also weighed in, describing Nicolaides as uninformed and incompetent on the issue.

“While we give credit to the minister for clearing up the confusion he created, he needs to do better next time,” said NDP Advanced Education critic David Eggen.

“We will continue to monitor this situation to ensure that students get access to the scholarship money they earned in full and on time.”

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