Students rally province for reduced tuition

The Canadian Federation of Students in Nova Scotia led a New Year's Eve-themed protest outside the premier's office.

Students rally for reduced tuition fees. Photo: Kim Keitner

University students have long been known as allies of the NDP, but student protestors led by the Canadian Federation of Students in Nova Scotia staged a mock New Year's Eve party on the doorstep of the premier's office this morning, seeking to pressure Darrell Dexter for increased support.

Students rallied the premier to make it his New Year's resolution to ensure an investment in post-secondary education for the upcoming fiscal year. They petitioned for reduced tuition fees, increased government funding for tuition and more government grants, rather than loans.

By 11 a.m. roughly 25 protestors clustered in front of the Granville Street building, donning shiny hats, blowing noisemakers and holding placards bearing ironic resolutions of their own, such as, "I resolve to be the first in line at the food bank," while Beyonce and Michael Jackson blared over the speakers.

The group chanted, "We will not give up the fight, education is a right," and took turns reading aloud their penny-pinching "resolutions," exemplifying the various measures students might need to take to alleviate their debt. These included cancelling phone and Internet services, or taking on a fourth job.

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Banner outlines the Canadian Federation of Students' 2010 objectives. Photo: Kim Keitner

In addition to several speeches, the CFS-NS presented the deputy minister of education, Dennis Cochrane, with a petition signed by 3,000 students provincewide, in support of reduced tuition fees and increased government funding.

The minister made no comment.

Jake Byrne, the Nova Scotia national executive representative for the Federation of Students, spoke about the need to secure tuition reductions and freezes, and the injustice of the provincial government giving a tuition rebate only to those students who are native Nova Scotian residents.

"We think an immediate reduction in tuition fees is necessary. Follow it with a freeze. What we're ideally looking for is based on what Newfoundland has been doing for the past decade. Since 1999 their tuition fees have been frozen and constantly reduced. Their tuition fees are currently the second lowest in the country... they're a real model for what government investment in post-secondary education should be."

Upon leaving cabinet today, Darrell Dexter responded to the student protests, saying, "All these things become budget questions, and they have to be dealt with within the context of the financial situation of the province...I encourage the student associations to go to those consultations, take part to make sure that their voice is heard..."

Tuition Re-Cap

In 2008, then-provincial education minister Karen Casey signed a memorandum of understanding, which froze tuition for three years. In addition, the province established a $66-million Nova Scotia University Student Bursary Trust to bring tuition costs for native Nova Scotia students down to the national average by 2010-11. For Nova Scotians, the bursary was set up to provide a maximum per-student benefit of $761 in 2008-09, $1,022 in 2009-10 and $1,283 in 2010-11.

Out-of-province students attending Nova Scotia universities were to receive a bursary of $261 in 2010-11.

A Statistics Canada report for the 2009/2010 academic year finds that students in Nova Scotia pay the second-highest average tuition fees at $5,696, on the heels of Ontario. This is close to $800 above the national average for this year, which is $4,917. It reports that tuition fees declined in Nova Scotia by 3.1 per cent for the second year running.

UNews reporter Andrew Kudel spoke to Rebecca Rose, the Maritimes organizer for CFS, after the study was released last fall. Rose said that the report is fairly misleading. The province froze, but did not decrease, tuition, and the reported decline is due to a rebate that is available only to Nova Scotia students.

Things to Come

The tuition freeze is set to end in 2011, and the memorandum will be up for re-negotiation next year. The premier has already stated that the province is in dire straits and he will be looking to make cuts.

"We absolutely will be devastated if the freeze doesn't get reinstated, but ideally what we want is a reduction in that, and increased funding," Byrne said.

"We'll be at all the pre-budget consultations and we're going to be really pushing, collecting as many signatures as possible, going to farmers markets and community events, making sure our message is out there...the government can hear us when we say that not only do students want tuition fees reduced, but community members too."

Indeed, Kyle Buott, president of the Halifax-Dartmouth District Labour Council spoke briefly, saying his labour council stands in solidarity with the students. He expressed disappointment at having to protest an NDP government, whose supporters are largely comprised of students and workers.

As the protest wound down, the students shouted out a New Year's countdown, which culminated in the popping of "champagne" (sparkling grape juice) corks, a re-written rendition of Auld Lang Syne and the cutting of a giant white cake.

It was, to say the least, not the most conventional of New Year's celebrations. But if the CFS-NS get their way, people will, like the morning after so many debauched New Year's eves, wake up to a sober and resolute desire for change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments on this story are now closed

"He expressed disappointment at having to protest an NDP government, whose supporters are largely comprised of students and workers." ok... as opposed to the other parties who get support from the unemployed?

Posted by Mark | Jan 15, 2022

Very interesting article. It's a shame only 25 students attended the protest.

Posted by Laura | Jan 26, 2022