Students gathered last February to protest tuition hikes. (Photo: Corey Davison)

Students gathered last February to protest tuition hikes. (Photo: Corey Davison)

University funding cuts punish students, say advocates

Tuition increase will further hurt students who can't make ends meet, says student group

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The university community in Nova Scotia has greeted the province's announcement of funding cuts with a mixture of dismay and anger.

"Nova Scotia's university leaders are deeply disappointed with the government's decision to reduce its annual operating grant to their institutions for the second straight year," wrote John Harker, chair of the Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents on Thursday.

Universities will see a three per cent reduction in funding. Harker says provincial cuts have accounted for $75 million in lost revenue over the last two years.

Last week, the NDP government released a memorandum of understanding which outlines its funding commitments to Nova Scotia's 11 universities over the next three years. The document commits to providing $25 million for cost-reducing projects.

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If tuition increases stay constant, struggling students will be further hurt.

But contentious announcements include:

  • a maximum yearly tuition increase for Nova Scotia students of three per cent
  • the possibility of lifting tuition caps for out-of-province students
  • no defined tuition cap for students of medicine, law or dentistry
  • no defined tuition cap for international students

Advanced Education Minister Marilyn More called the move balanced.

"The new agreement will keep university education affordable for Nova Scotian students while making sure we all live within our means..." she stated in a news release.

But the Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations disagrees. Of the 35,000 students they represent, last year 2,200 weren't living within their means. They came up $3,054 short of funds needed to pay for tuition, rent and groceries.

If tuition increases stay constant over the next three years, this shortfall will rise by 17 per cent, not including inflation.

The student perspective 

Grace McCaffrey, 21, is one of those students who is just scraping by. She receives a combination of loans and grants from the Quebec government. And after tuition and rent she has $200 each month to support herself.

"I think when you're concentrating so much on keeping the fridge full it's really hard to find energy to put into assignments," says McCaffrey, a Dalhousie University student.

She thinks she'll be $30,000 in debt by the time she has a degree to hang over her mantle. And she's not alone.

The average debt for undergraduate students in Nova Scotia is around $31,000 making it the highest in the country, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

McCaffrey believes her double major in sustainability and environmental sciences will enable her to contribute to society but she finds it difficult to stay passionate.

"I feel like I'm investing in...something for the future which can be hard to keep in mind."

Unmet financial needs

Student representatives place the blame squarely on the provincial government.

"(The NDP) were really great allies to students when they were the official opposition but that quickly changed when they were elected," claims Rebecca Rose, Maritimes organizer for the Canadian Federation of Students.

She acknowledges that the province has put more money into student financial aid, but she says upping how much students can take out in repayable loans won't fix the situation.

"What they really need to be doing is addressing the core issue, which is the affordability of post-secondary education and anything else is just rearranging the chairs on a sinking ship."

She points to Newfoundland and Labrador as a model for Nova Scotia to follow. Tuition rates there have stayed relatively frozen for years and are less than half of the national average.

 

Comments

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