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Reemus, left, and Ahmed, right, with their mother, Nareman Zatima. Photo: Keira McIntyre

Pandemic has B.C. parents struggling to save for children’s higher education

Families are finding different strategies to put kids through post-secondary schooling amid economic downturn.

By Madison Lenders , in City , on February 25, 2021 Tags: , , , , ,

Parents say they are worried about how the pandemic will affect their ability to save for their children’s post-secondary education, something they know that will be needed more than ever.

Nareman Zatima with daughters, Mariam, left, and Lillian “Lulu,” right. Photo: Keira McIntyre

That’s the case for Nareman Zatima, a Syrian refugee living in Langley with her husband and five children. After coming to Canada in 2016, she began thinking about how she would pay for her children’s future education.

“I thought about placing my children in universities because I left my country for their sake,” Zatima said. “The pandemic caused a lot of problems. There are disabilities because of the language and not being able to speak well to develop the work, and we have many obligations such as home rent and others.”

Zatima is right to be worried. A recent Statistics Canada survey reported that children will need more financial help from parents than ever. Parents who reported different financing routes — other than savings — through which they might help their child through higher education rose by as much as 10 per cent during the pandemic.

The report also indicates that immigrant parents are more likely to make large personal sacrifices to put their kids through higher education.

“Immigrants on average are more likely to expect their children to pursue post-secondary education,” said Aneta Bonikowska, who co-authored the Statistics Canada report, and are therefore more likely to resort to less conventional methods like taking out loans and selling off assets.

Zatima hopes to never have to take out loans for her children’s studies. But with her husband having just started a new business venture, she is still uncertain about how the pandemic will affect their finances in the long run.

The Zatima children. From left to right: Lillian “Lulu,” 1; Mariam, 8; Hamzeh, 11, top; Reemus, 7; Ahmed, 5. Photo: Keira McIntyre

And immigrant parents aren’t alone in struggling to save for their children’s future education.

Canadian-born parents, like Squamish resident, Jaimee LoGiacco, face reduced income and other financial hardships that make it hard to save for their child’s education, something she knows is increasingly needed, especially as universities — like the University of British Columbia — continue to propose raised tuition prices to account for plateaued provincial education budgets.

LoGiacco worries about her two-year-old son’s future. She said that while it’s early to be thinking about her son’s post-secondary education, the high living costs in B.C. mean that she needs to plan ahead. But the pandemic has changed everything.

“Our financial situation has changed even with both parents still being able to work through the pandemic. Our hours have been reduced and all overtime has been suspended. At this point in time, there isn’t an option for our family to save at all,” said LoGiacco.

LoGiacco says that the pandemic has forced her to rethink how she will put her son through higher education, as saving is not a feasible option at the moment.

Generation Squeeze, a national research, education and advocacy organization for young Canadians has begun addressing the squeeze of housing, healthcare, education and other factors that parents like Zatima and LoGiacco, along with their children will face in today’s economy.

Generation Squeeze founder, Paul Kershaw, sees the struggle to fund children’s higher education as the tip of the iceberg of financial challenges that young Canadians face. The pandemic, he said, has only tightened the squeeze.

“I think it’s absolutely fair to say there was a massive squeeze before. And then all the pandemic did was tighten the vice grip even further and further and further. And so we have a really precarious situation for younger Canadians now,” he said.

So while some parents are turning to numerous ways to help finance their child’s post-secondary studies, Kershaw suggests that instead of trying to solve these problems themselves — through enormous personal sacrifices to cover education costs — parents should be fighting for general change instead.

“We need to get parents involved in using their voices to say, as we build back better, we must prioritize our kids and grandchildren with greater urgency,” he said.