The New Brunswick government will freeze university tuitions for 2008-09 in Tuesday’s provincial budget. A government source says the schools will get an additional $12 million — or a six per cent increase in funding — as it tries to address the issue of student debt.According to Statistics Canada, the largest tuition increases in the country last year were in New Brunswick and Quebec — both at 4.8 per cent.
Premier Shawn Graham promised to address the issue in November after his government’s throne speech. “The bottom line is this: debt loads for our graduating students are too high, they must come down, and they will,” he said at the time.
The $12 million will be split among the province’s four public universities: the University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University, the University of Moncton and Mount Allison University. The source says departments in the New Brunswick government have also been ordered to find a total $15 million in administrative savings, with that money to be redirected to universities and other initiatives such as promoting good health, including smoking prevention.
Finance Minister Victor Boudreau has already promised a balanced budget with no new taxes. However, during a business luncheon earlier this month, he cautioned that times are tough and revenue projections are not as rosy as they should be. He warned that he was looking for savings in all programs and departments, but he would not say if incentives such as the $2,000 grant for all first-year university students could be on the chopping block.
Government sources wouldn’t discuss the program’s future this weekend, but they do say a number of changes to the post-secondary education system will be unveiled during the spring session of the legislature. The government is waiting for the final recommendations from the working group on post-secondary education before making more announcements. The group of university presidents and college principals was commissioned last year after a report recommended sweeping changes, including merging some satellite university campuses with community colleges to form polytechnic schools. The government backed away from that idea after facing strong protest.
This will be the Graham government’s second budget. It came under fire last year after bringing in a $6.6 billion budget that raised personal and business taxes and increased the province’s net debt. The government said the tax hikes were needed to head off a large, looming deficit of about $400 million, but in fact, they posted a surplus of almost $237 million.