Student financial aid (SFA), which is generally distributed on the basis of “need” or “merit”, essentially seeks to provide students with a sum of money that will allow them to start or continue their university education. This sum can be used to cover tuition and institutional fees, or to pay for personal costs linked to things like housing, food, transport, social activities, etc.
This financial support can be privately funded (private scholarships, loans from financial institutions, credit, etc.), but it is public financial aid that is the subject of most debate among student associations. Distributed as loans and bursaries, this financial support is added to the revenue that a student already possesses (employment, family contribution, etc.). While some bursaries or scholarships attributed based on merit are still financed by the federal government (ex. SHHRC grants), education is still under provincial jurisdiction. When talking about student financial aid, discussion therefore generally revolves around programs offered by the Quebec government.
In Quebec, financial aid is governed by the Law on Student Financial Aid and by the By-law on Student Financial Aid, adopted in 1997 and 2004 respectively. These regulations originate in the Law Facilitating Access to Education (1959) and in the Law and By-Law on Student Loans and Bursaries, which were both adopted as of 1966 and modified multiple time after the fact.
The Loans and Bursaries Program and the Loans Program for Part-Time Studies have contributory features. In other words, “they are founded on the principle that the student is the primary responsible party for the costs associated to his or her studies” . Since their very beginnings at the end of the 1960s, this programmes have seen many changes. Among the most important of these changes are the heightening of the ceilings for loans and bursaries, the broadening of the defining criteria for an autonomous student, and modifications in the calculation of student and third-party contributions, to the conditions for repaying loans, to the maximum period of allocation of student aid, and to the debt ceiling.
The support provided by student financial aid is essential not only to ensure access to teaching, but also for access to results, as it provides students with living conditions that are more likely to favour academic success and employment opportunities. Despite the improvements that the SFA program has seen over the past few years, many still denounce the deficiencies in the evaluation methods and in aid allocation, as well as the debt that this aid generates for students. These shortcomings must therefore be examined closely and revised regularly to ensure that the program meets the actual needs of students while avoiding increasing their indebtedness.
In May 2013, three months after the Summit on Higher Education, the government of Quebec published a monitoring report on student financial aid. At that time, the SSMU shared the position of other members of the TaCEQ, which viewed the planned measures favourably. However, the issue is constantly evolving, and the SSMU intends to continue to pay close attention to developments. On its side, the FEUQ set up a Modernise Student Financial Aid campaign for the 2014-2015 academic year.
 Gouvernement du Québec (2014). « Guide de présentation d’une requête au comité d’examen des demandes dérogatoires au regard de l’aide financière aux études », p. 2