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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2013

‘Smoke & mirrors’ obscure Nova Scotia’s budget

[Gary A.K./Flickr]
[Gary A.K./Flickr]
The Nova Scotia NDP government’s 2013-2014 budget held no surprises for post-secondary institutions facing a third round of previously agreed-upon cuts to operating grants.

But Chris Ferns, president of the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers, says that despite the certainty of the cuts, “there’s an element of smoke and mirrors about the whole budget.”

Institutions will see a three per cent cut this year, following on three and four per cent cuts in the last two, as outlined in a memo of understanding negotiated between the government and administrators.

Ferns noted that while that amounts to an estimated $337 million cut for the coming year, “trying to figure out the actual funding for post-secondary institutions is not easy.”

Additionally, critics are attacking the government’s projection of a modest $16 million surplus as an illusion designed to win votes in an election year.

Ferns agreed, noting that post-secondary “cost overruns” last year drew an additional $34 million out of government coffers.

“They project a modest surplus, but if they spend anything more on cost overruns, that surplus will vanish pretty quickly.”

Several universities in the pro­vince have large debts, including Dalhousie with over $100 million, and Acadia, whose debt has hit $70 million.

“Yet the government constantly tells the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design to get its fiscal house in order and consider amalgamating with Dalhousie,” Ferns said.

Forty per cent of Nova Scotia’s students come from outside the province, and “the university system is one of the major economic drivers, so it makes no sense to be slashing like this,” Ferns said.

The budget added $4.6 million, for a total of $45 million, in student assistance, shifting the grant to loan burden for students from a 35/65 ratio to 40/60.

Nicolas Stark, the Nova Scotia representative for the Canadian Federation of Students, said tuition fees will rise by three per cent, cancelling any benefit.

He said students also want to see the province’s continued funding of the graduate retention rebate program redirected into need-based grants.

The tax credit of up to $2,500 is available to graduates who take employment in the province, but just $3.3 million was dispersed in 2010 from a $25 million base.

“It’s just a political tool, very ineffective with poor take-up. It’s not the kind of incentive that gets people to stay,” Stark said.