The New Brunswick government has unveiled a budget that promises to slash the province’s deficit by half and banks on balancing the books by 2014–2015.
Richard Hudson, president of the Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations, said there’s disappointment at the lack of vision for post-secondary education in the budget released in the legislature March 27.
“There is much talk of achieving efficiencies in government in the budget speech, but other than a strategic investment for 231 additional seats at community colleges there is no mention of universities at all,” he said. “Even Horse Racing New Brunswick gets three lines in the budget.”
It’s difficult to calculate the increase in government post-secondary funding or in what form tuition will manifest, much because Finance Minister Blaine Higgs’ budget lacks so many important details.
With the budget estimates, FNB-FA anticipates the increase in the base of the university operating grant may be as low as one per cent, while student financial assistance may see some small cuts.
“There are real problems in universities,” Hudson said. “The inflation rate for the post-secondary sector tends to run more than a point higher than the Consumer Price Index, but it looks like universities will have to make do with less than that.”
Students fear the lack of specifics in the budget does not bode well for holding the line on tuition fees or financial aid programs.
New Brunswick already has the second-highest average undergraduate tuition fees in Canada at $5,853.
Hudson said the budget appears indicative of the long-term disinvestment in post-secondary education — a direction that has hampered the province for decades.
“This lack of vision for post-secondary education means that students in New Brunswick will continue to pay more but get less as they pay among the highest tuition fees in the country and graduate with a punishing debt load,” he said.
“The implications are clear as chronically underfunded universities will offer fewer programs and courses, and more courses will be taught by exploited contract academic staff without the prospect of a career path.”