University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies launches fund to support students, those seeking to upskill

The University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies has launched a new fund to help those experiencing financial difficulties due to COVID-19 pursue their education and upgrade their skills.

The Opportunity Fund will provide eligible students a one-time bursary of up to $750 towards the cost of a School of Continuing Studies course. New and existing students are encouraged to apply, including students from other provinces.

The school offers around 700 courses in 40 program areas, with nearly half the courses moved to online and remote delivery in the wake of physical distancing measures put in place to suppress the spread of COVID-19.

While the school already offers various monetary awards – including bursaries for women in finance and technology and Indigenous students – Dean Maureen MacDonald says there was a need for a specific fund that helps students who are struggling due to the financial hardships brought about by COVID-19.

“Many of the folks in our learner community are being adversely affected by the COVID-19 situation, whether they’re finding themselves unemployed or less employed than they were,” said MacDonald, adding that many students who had already paid for courses sought withdrawals in the wake of the pandemic. “It was becoming increasingly challenging for some of them to be able to afford the tuition that’s associated with some our courses.

“We thought that, by creating this fund, we might be able to support some of our existing learners but also perhaps attract some new learners to the School of Continuing Studies.”

Maureen MacDonald

Maureen MacDonald, dean of U of T’s School of Continuing Studies, says many have been “adversely affected by the COVID-19 situation, whether they’re finding themselves unemployed or less employed than they were” (photo by Romi Levine)

Bursaries will be given out by randomly drawing from a pool of applicants who have demonstrated that they have been financially impacted by COVID-19 and could put the funding toward their learning goals. The first draw will take place May 4.

MacDonald says there has been significant interest in the program, with over 100 applications submitted in the first week alone from four provinces. Women comprised nearly two-thirds of applicants, according to MacDonald.

She adds that the school is pleased to support the learning objectives of people hailing from diverse educational backgrounds, career stages and socio-economic situations.

“We have a community that’s made up of people who are early in their careers, mid-career and wanting to make a change – or they’re new Canadians looking for a Canadian credential, or people looking to stay current with the changes in the industry,” says MacDonald.

“We felt the Opportunity Fund was a way to help some of those folks access funds for tuition that would enable them to keep pursuing their careers, whether they’ve been side-tracked from them and are looking to explore new things, or whether they’re just wanting to keep going while they’ve maybe got a little bit more extra time on their hands.

“This was a way to do that and support people in continuing their learning journeys.”