The elimination of most post-secondary tuition caps in Nova Scotia is a move that could spell disaster for the wider university community, critics are warning.
Despite close to a decade of frozen and capped tuition fee increases, the Liberal government’s April 9 budget documents trumpeted that “universities are independent institutions, and must have flexibility to make decisions.”
The budget will allow the province’s universities to make “one-time market adjustments to tuition, to charge similar amounts for similar programs.”
The “adjustment” can take place over several years, and once increases have been applied, an annual three-per-cent cap will return only to tuition rates charged to under-graduates from Nova Scotia. Tuition caps for out-of-province students and graduate studies are lifted entirely.
Nova Scotia already charges the third-highest rates for tuition in the country, and in a province also suffering from general demographic decline, it’s feared that hiking tuition fees could seriously affect the province’s ability to attract and retain youth.
“About one-third of Nova Scotia’s post-secondary students come from out of province,” said Matthew Furlong, communications officer for the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers. “A drop in those numbers would be a disaster for everyone.”
Furlong noted that a pre-budget consultation process that was supposed to allow a broad range of discussion instead focussed narrowly on the needs of business.
“There is no social vision. A system that is mobilized entirely to fulfill business purposes is anathema to the notion of being truly educated,” he said.
Faculty aren’t the only ones upset with the budget unveiled by Finance Minister Diana Whalen. With an average student debt of $37,000, young people in the province were looking for some help in the provincial budget, says the Canadian Federation of Students.
“This budget opens the door to Nova Scotia once again having the highest tuition fees and debt loads in the country,” said Michaela Sam, chairperson of CFS – Nova Scotia. “It’s a huge failure on the part of government.”
According to Sam, government surveys conducted in the fall of 2014 indicated “overwhelming public support for stricter government oversight of university tuition, ancillary and auxiliary fees, and for reducing tuition fees.” The same surveys revealed “85 per cent of Nova Scotians were opposed to universities being able to set fees independently, and 60 per cent were not opposed to paying higher taxes if it meant reduced tuition fees.”
Instead, tuition fees for all students will now be set through “internal tuition resets determined by individual institutions, with no government oversight,” she said.
As well, the province’s debt cap program will no longer cover about 1,500 Nova Scotians studying outside the province. University operating grants will increase by 1 per cent in each of the next four years.