The 2015-16 Nova Scotia provincial budget dropped on Thursday. And as it did, so did many jaws.
Anger spread among many students as it was revealed that the cap on tuition would be lifted for the coming year so that schools could adjust their fees to the market.
“Student retention?? Ohhh we thought you said student prevention.” -NS liberals
— Cory (@dysfuncpancreas) April 9, 2015
For Nova Scotian undergraduate students, a three per cent yearly cap on tuition will return after the one year lift – at least for the following four years. But for graduate students and out-of-province students, tuition increases will remain unregulated.
The Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission reported that about 63 per cent of students enrolled at King’s in the 2012-13 school year were not permanent residents of Nova Scotia. An out-of-province majority means the student body is hard hit by the new budget.
“All of the students at King’s should be worried about this because it’s actually a threat to the university as a whole,” says Alex Bryant, president of the King’s Students’ Union.
He says King’s is already struggling with enrolment and retention, and an increase in tuition won’t help matters.
“Students simply can’t afford to pay more. I think we couldn’t afford to pay more quite a long time ago,” says Bryant.
In addition to the increase in tuition that’s in the hands of the universities themselves, a $261 bursary for out of province students has been cut entirely.
Gwendolyn Moncrieff-Gould is in her third year of a degree with combined honours in Contemporary Studies and Political Science. She’s from Ontario, while her partner is a native Nova Scotian. They both have plans for grad school. But those plans no longer include staying here.
“We hadn’t wanted to give up on the province when there was still hope for it. But at this point it doesn’t seem as though life or studying here is at all sustainable, or economically possible.”
The unique nature of her degree, though, means she’ll be staying next year to finish up her Bachelors. Credits from a program like Contemporary Studies may not translate well to other university programs. And while the news of the deregulation came Thursday, she doesn’t expect to hear of changes to tuition until summer. That means that even students considering transferring may not be able to do in time for the fall semester.
“It may be too late to transfer now, honestly,” says Moncrieff-Gould. “It’s definitely convinced me that there’s no way I can stay here post-graduation.”
A 2014 poll conducted by the Nova Scotia Post-Secondary Education Coalition, which includes the Canadian Federation of Students NS, says that 85 per cent of Nova Scotians surveyed think tuition fees should be reduced. 60 per cent said they would pay higher taxes to make post-secondary education more affordable. The poll surveyed 800 people over the course of a week in December 2013.
The budget also allots $1.6 million to turn provincial student loans into grants, a topic of much discussion at this year’s Day of Action demonstration.
Bryant recognizes this as a boon to Nova Scotian students, but says it’s not enough to outweigh the detrimental effects on the out of province and graduate students that make up the majority at King’s.
“It’s just at what cost, right?”
President George Cooper sent out an email to students on April 10, outlining the university’s plans for tuition increases.
“It is premature to speculate how these changes might affect tuition rates for 2016-17 and ensuing academic years,” Cooper writes in the email. However, it’s clear the tuition for the 2015-16 academic year will not be affected by the one-year market adjustment.
Students who are graduating next year were relieved by the news, but the problem still lingers for students continuing into the 2016-17 academic year.
The union prepared a messaging campaign in response to the budget release.
“I don’t even want to imagine what it could cost if we don’t mobilize around this, and if the Board doesn’t make its own commitment to not increasing tuition fees.”
Cooper’s email says that King’s will “remain committed to maintaining nationally competitive tuition rates that balance financial sustainability with ensuring a high quality academic and student experience.” Any changes, he continues, will be part of an open budget consultation.
In a statement on April 9, Dalhousie’s vice-president of finance and administration, Ian Nason, said that Dalhousie will not change its tuition and fee recommendations for the 2015-16 school year. Those recommendations will be voted on by their Board of Governor’s on April 21.
With files from Grace Kennedy.
[box type=”info”] This story was first posted online April 10. An updated version was published in the April print issue, and updated online April 20. [/box]