A move to freeze Nova Scotia university tuitions at current levels for the next three years drew a mixed response Monday from student groups grappling with some of the highest tuitions in the country.The memorandum of understanding between the Conservative government and the province’s 11 universities sets out a schedule of increased funding to meet operational costs and eliminate tuition increases for all students.
Education Minister Karen Casey said the agreement included $180 million in direct funding to universities and a $66 million bursary trust to further make education costs more affordable for Nova Scotia and out-of-province Canadian students.
“No student, whether from Nova Scotia, Canada or any other country; whether in an undergraduate, graduate or professional program, will pay more in tuition for the next three years,” said Casey.
The bursary will provide Nova Scotia students with a maximum benefit of $761 in the upcoming year, which will grow to more than $1,000 in 2009 and to more than $1,200 in 2010.
Meanwhile, Canadian students from outside the province will get a bursary in 2010-11 to ensure the differential with Nova Scotia students doesn’t exceed $1,000.
Statistics Canada figures peg the average cost of tuition in Nova Scotia at more than $5,800. It says the largest tuition increases last year were in New Brunswick and Quebec at 4.8 per cent, followed by Ontario at 4.4 per cent.
New Brunswick recently announced it had allocated an extra $12 million in its budget to allow the province’s four public universities to freeze tuitions for the next academic year.
While pleased with the short-term help, student groups questioned why students from outside Nova Scotia weren’t included in the freeze until 2010.
Kaley Kennedy of the Canadian Federation of Students said it didn’t make sense to penalize students from outside the province when enrolments are declining and the population is aging. She said many may simply go elsewhere as a result.
“I think that it definitely discourages students,” said Kennedy. “It says that the (Premier Rodney) MacDonald government … isn’t committed to making education accessible and affordable for those students.”
Mike Tipping of the Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations also voiced concern about what will happen after the current agreement expires.
Tipping said there was a possibility the funding formula could become enrolment-based, something an Education Department spokesman said hadn’t been decided.
“There have been big problems with enrolment in certain schools in Nova Scotia and it’s going to be compounded by not giving as much money to students from out of province,” said Tipping.
About 31 per cent of Nova Scotia’s university students come from out of province. Casey said part of the problem in providing additional help is a per capita federal funding formula that doesn’t include those students.
“We believe the responsibility is with the federal government to increase our funding … so we can redirect that extra funding towards those out of province students,” Casey said.
She said the measures would see the province keep its promise to bring tuitions in line with the national average by 2010.
It’s a claim opposition politicians say is in doubt given Nova Scotia is in competition with other provinces also battling cost pressures.
“They have to keep their eye on this moving target and they are going to have to continue to be more aggressive,” said Liberal Diana Whalen.
New Democrat Leonard Preyra said the government has to be cognizant that damage isn’t done to a post-secondary education industry worth more than $1 billion.
“Nova Scotia is an education destination in a knowledge-dependant world and we have to make sure that we don’t starve or kill the goose that lays the golden egg for us,” he said.
-with a report from CP
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