Debate over further tuition cuts

Nova Scotia has high tuition rates and many would like to see them cut but there is also an argument to keep things the way they are.


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The average student in Nova Scotia graduates with $28,000 of debt - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Photo by Andy Newson

This year Nova Scotia doesn't have the highest tuition rate in Canada for the first time in a while.

The province dropped to second place on the list, behind Ontario according to Statistics Canada. The figures released last month say that the average tuition in Nova Scotia's average is $5,696, while in Ontario it's $5,951.

The shame of being the most expensive province in Canada in which to study was a factor in the province's announcement in March 2008 that it would bring average tuition costs to the national average by 2011.
Like many students, Chad Hudson, a political science student at King's College, is paying for his education with student loans so tuition cuts would help his debt load.

"You'd think I'd be in favour of it, but I'm not," he said.

He worries that the quality of education would diminish if tuition was cut significantly.

"It takes money to fund universities. The cost of running something like this is huge," he said.

He also worries about the values of degrees if everyone had them. "The more BAs we have, the value of a BA decreases," he said.

Another political science student, Ryan Hagen at Dalhousie, also gets his money through government loans. He doesn't have a problem with paying high tuition.

"As long as the money is getting used efficiently, I don't have too big of a problem," says Hagen.

Blogger Léo Charbonneau made the same argument Oct. 30 in University Affairs, the publication of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, which represents Canada's universities.

He said that by lowering tuition, the quality of education might decline because universities would be unable to make back that extra money. He also argued that degrees were worth the hefty cost because of the rewards in future earnings.

But student groups disagree.

The Canadian Federation of Students released its action plan on education this month. It calls on the federal government to establish agreements with the provinces that guarantee lower tuition.
The report included the results of a telephone survey conducted by Harris/Decima and commissioned jointly with the Canadian Association of University Teachers this spring. The survey suggests 70 per cent of Canadians want tuition fees reduced or frozen.

Other groups support lower tuition.

"It's totally unsustainable to have the lowest income in the country and the highest tuition," said Christine Sauhier, a media spokesperson for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The Ottawa-based-think-tank argues the current situation in Nova Scotia is unacceptable. Sauhier said the centre would like to see more social infrastructure and government funding at universities to help students.

In its 2009 alternative budget for Nova Scotia, it wants the province to invest "$18 million to complement the Nova Scotia Bursary Trust fund and allow for a $1,100 tuition fee reduction for all Nova Scotia University students." The centre would also invest $4.3 million per year for four years in the Nova Scotia Community College to create 2,000 additional spaces.

The organization says it is concerned about student debt. It claims that the average student in Nova Scotia graduates with $28,000 of debt. It claims further that the debt hurts the economy, causing students to leave for cheaper universities in other provinces, Newfoundland in particular.

"The most effective ways of reducing student debt is to reduce tuition fees and provide needs-based grants to students," the budget states.

But others disagree.

"To simply look at the tuition argument by itself, it's easy for the government to freeze tuition, but it doesn't help with access," says Bobby O'Keefe of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

The think-tank's main problem with tuition cuts is that it would harm access and quality at universities.

O'Keefe said that while Nova Scotia has some of the highest tuition in the country it also has the highest participation rate. When tuition is cut, there are fewer spots for students because the university can't afford to be as accessible.

The institute also makes the argument that degrees are worth the cost of tuition.

"Someone getting a university degree will get half a million dollars more earning power in their lifetime than those without a university degree," said O'Keefe. "It's not like people paying the tuition aren't getting anything for it."



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