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New Brunswick’s education error

Spending limited resources helps rich students as much as poor


 

This year’s award for Worst Spin by a Politician in a Post-secondary Performance goes to …. insert drumroll… Premier Shawn Graham of New Brunswick!

According to a front page story in last Wednesday’s Times & Transcript, the province’s Liberal government is considering scrapping a planned universal $2,000 grant for first-year N.B. university students.

The grant was a campaign promise when the Liberals won the 2006 provincial election.

The fact the government is giving post-secondary education a hard look as it searches for ways to save money isn’t a surprise, nor is it a scandal. What is shocking, however, is the complete ignorance shown by the Premier in addressing the file and his lack of understanding of how to effectively spend public funds in order to improve access to education.

The Premier claims he has “an $8-million budgetary envelope” to spend in additional funds for post-secondary access. The Times & Transcript quotes him saying that money would be better spent on a tuition freeze.

New Brunswick’s student unions are calling on the Premier to aim that money towards those who need it most by creating a debt cap in the province. Capping debt was a recommendation from the government’s Commission on Post-Secondary Education, which recommended a cap of $7,000 per year.

Graham rejected the idea point-blank, saying his government can’t afford it. “New Brunswick would have been the only jurisdiction in Canada to move forward on such an initiative,” he told Times & Transcript.

The provinces of Ontario, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador already have debt caps. The claim by Graham that New Brunswick would be the only province with such a cap is incorrect. Actually, using this as a measure, New Brunswick is lagging behind the other provinces.

Saying his government can’t afford to provide targeted support to students is incorrect as well. It’s not that he can’t do it, it’s that he prefers to provide the same levels of support to all students—from the richest to the most-needy—by freezing tuition and providing tax credits. Taking that limited pot of money and devoting more of it to lower-income students would make more sense.

This is another example of what’s wrong with post-secondary education politics in this country. Instead of good public policy, politicians try to win votes and get photo-ops from money that should be spent improving access.

Starting with this post, I will be tracking attempts by the provincial governments to save money during the recession by cutting post-secondary education. Doesn’t it feel like the early 1990s? Follow the tag: 2009 Recession Cuts.


 

New Brunswick’s education error

  1. I heard something possibly more absurd in Berkeley last semester. The chancellor* advocated for an enormous tuition fee increase ($2000 across the board, which is a 30% increase in one shot for California residents**), because Gov. Schwarzenegger decided to cut funding to the public universities. He then said that the money from this increase would only be put into financial aid for students and in “keeping competitive salaries for the professors”.

    The fact that students, just like everyone else, might have less money to spend as a result of the economic crisis never crossed his mind, apparently. Somehow students are now expected to contribute more to maintain the salaries of the executive and highest-paid professors of the university!

    * in the University of California system, “Chancellor” is the top executive of a single campus (there is one President for the whole system), it’s not a symbolic position like in Canadian universities.

    ** in all likelihood, the actual increase will “only” be 10%. regardless, 30% was the amount proposed by the Chancellor in his report.

  2. “This year’s award for Worst Spin by a Politician in a Post-secondary Performance goes to …. insert drumroll… Premier Shawn Graham of New Brunswick!”

    He easily could have won last year’s as well. The Commission you mention was an unmitigated disaster, from the report itself to the government’s mishandling of it.

    I applaud your plan to cover provincial situations. A little national exposure can only be a good thing. Isn’t “transparency” one of the watchwords?

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  4. Glad to see the NBSA and its members aren’t the only ones who feel this way. Hopefully our meeting with the Government of NB concerning plans for the financial aid programs and available funding at the end of the month is positive.

  5. Pingback: STUSU Calls Out Premier On Debt Cap « STU Info

  6. Pingback: So… the Liberals see universal access as everyone paying the same high tuition « Living in interesting times

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