New Brunswick’s newly-elected Liberal government unveiled its first provincial budget in the legislature on March 31, where Finance Minister Roger Melanson said “difficult decisions” had to be made to keep the projected deficit to $476 million.
Melanson’s budget imposes, among other measures “to address fiscal challenges,” two new tax rates on incomes above $150,000, a tuition fee freeze without increasing the overall level of funding for university grants, and cuts to government services and teaching positions, with much of the latter to be achieved through attrition.
Jean Sauvageau, president of the Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations, said the budget lacks long-term vision and fails to put forward a well-defined road map for the post-secondary education sector even as the finance minister places high hopes on boosting revenues through an improving economy.
“If we really plan on improving the economy and creating new high-quality jobs in the province we will need a highly-educated and qualified workforce, the kind of education that New Brunswick universities are able to offer,” Sauvageau said.
The budget reneges on the two per cent increase in university operating funding for 2015–2016 previously promised by the Alward government, instead “freezing contributions to universities and community colleges so that they become more focused and efficient,” and imposing a tuition freeze.
Sauvageau said while his group is not opposed to freezing tuition fees for students, it’s a bad choice when there’s no accompanying additional public funding to compensate for lost tuition revenue. “The tuition freeze, in addition to the government funding freeze, means that the financial shortcomings of the universities will have a direct impact on course offerings and research,” he said.
The budget also eliminates the parental and spousal contribution in determining need for student funding, and cancels the $20,000 tuition rebate program for graduates who stay and work in the province.
The cut angered students who took to social media arguing the tuition program should have been replaced with an alternate plan to help graduates. Within hours, an online petition asking the government to reinstate the program gained thousands of signatures from across New Brunswick.
In releasing the budget, Melanson said the program “helped only those students who have already graduated and are collecting salaries. It did nothing to help needy students enter the system in the first place.”
Doing away with the program will save the government about $22 million.