Premier promises education review

Speaking with students Wednesday night, Premier Darrell Dexter said the province would announce public consultations on post secondary education within the next two weeks.

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Premier Darrell Dexter sits upstairs at Just Us! Coffee on Spring Garden road, taking questions from young Nova Scotians after his talk. Photo: Sunni Vann

During a meeting with students from the Young New Democrats Wednesday evening, Premier Darrell Dexter announced a series of public consultations focused exclusively on post-secondary education.

While not guaranteeing reduced tuition fees or additional funds to improve universities' ageing infrastructure, two issues brought up by students in the crowd, Dexter announced a series of consultations on post-secondary education.

"The way the consultations will unfold will be the subject of a news conference sometime in the next few weeks," he said. "But we will ensure that when they take place, student organizations are included and are given the opportunity to express their views."

The province has a year left in its memorandum of understanding with its universities. The agreement guarantees funding to the university and limits tuition hikes. The province has already indicated it will be looking for cuts in subsequent years to limit its deficit.

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On Jan. 20, Darrell Dexter spoke about issues facing young Nova Scotians at a coffee night organized by the Nova Scotia Young Democrats. Slideshow: Sunni Vann

Around 30 young people, all under the age of 30, attended the meeting with the premier at the Just Us Café on Spring Garden Road. Dexter spoke for about half an hour on topics ranging from his experience at the Copenhagen Conference to American shipping regulations.

Throughout the meeting, Dexter stressed the importance of investing in Nova Scotia's universities and keeping students in the province after they graduate.

"The great thing about having so many universities is a lot of people come from other provinces and, in some ways, we get first crack at them," Dexter said. "We need to find ways to inspire more people to stay in the province after they graduate. A lot of that is centered around economic opportunities."

Rebecca Rose, the Maritime organizer for the Canadian Federation of Students, was disappointed with the public consultation announcement.

"A review costs money and time and energy when we already know what's wrong," Rose said. "We know we've had the highest tuition fees in the country for 20 years, the highest student debt in the country, and we're losing students to Newfoundland."

Rose was concerned the consultations might also result in recommendations of rationalization for the province's schools.

"Reviews in the past in Nova Scotia have recommended rationalization, which means combining the universities," she said. "This would mean really valuable smaller institutions like King's, Sainte-Anne and NSCAD would be in danger."

Since 2005, both Saskatchewan and Ontario have had reviews of post-secondary education. Rationalization was examined in Nova Scotia in the 1990s, and in 2006 education minister Karen Casey suggested the province's universities should consider merging.

Rose commended the premier on his recent endorsement of a proposed federal transfer fund for post-secondary education. The fund would provide strings-attached federal funds that could only be used for post-secondary education.

"The transfer issue makes sense for us because we are a net importer of students," Dexter said. "When your education transfers come to you on a per capita basis in proportion to the population of the country, but your students come at a much greater rate, there is considerable pressure on the province to make up the difference."

 

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