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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2015

Newfoundland budget delivers bad news

Newfoundland and Labrador’s 2015–2016 budget delivered April 30 was worse than expected for post-secondary education, critics say, with tuition fee increases for some students and a cut to university operations.

The budget cuts at least $20 million from Memorial University’s operating grant and no longer supports a tuition freeze for graduate and international students. The tuition freeze also excludes the pro­vince’s medical students.

Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association president George Jenner says plans are sketchy about how the operating cut will roll out on campus, but that the university is now looking at increasing tuition for international and graduate students by 30 per cent.

“Part of the problem is really that the administration needs to account much better for the situation that is has found itself in,” said Jenner. “There has been a massive expansion in the administrative component of the university without any indication how any of this will help support the core missions of research and teaching.”

University documents show that the number of administrators has increased by 30 per cent between
2009 and 2014, while the number of faculty declined by almost 10 per cent over the same time period.

To make matters worse at Memorial, the government also announced it would not make a $21 million contribution to help the university with its pension obligations. The university is likely to ask for a one-year deferment of the payment it will now have to fund from its operating budget, but the government said it will only authorize deferral if a study of the pension plan is undertaken.

Jenner worries the rationale for the study is the government’s desire to bring the university’s pension in line with other Newfoundland public sector plans. Such reforms have resulted in a loss of indexation, joint trusteeship, and removal of the government guarantee, increases in contribution rates and decreases in benefits.

“Our pension plan is performing well and is currently 84 per cent funded,” said Jenner. “We don’t need a study to look at alternatives. Our pension is already studied in depth and is in a much healthier state than the other public sector union plans. If it isn’t broken, don’t tinker with it.”

He said academic staff are skeptical of “the need for our pension, and fee increases to the students, to bear a disproportionate share of the perceived shortfall.”

Travis Perry, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students- Newfoundland and Labrador, said although students are pleased budget 2015 follows through on the commitment to eliminate provincial student loans and replace them with non-repayable grants, the move pales compared to the loss of funding for the universal tuition freeze.

“The province requires a skilled workforce to compete in today’s economy, and graduate degrees are recognized as a necessary qualification for employment in a growing number of fields,” he said. “Creating barriers to graduate education will undermine the province’s future economic potential and limit opportunities for the province’s youth to pursue higher learning right here at home.”

He also said a tuition fee increase for international students will make it harder to attract newcomers, which the province desperately needs as the population is expected to shrink by 45,000 over the next two decades.