Fredericton – Students are asking that the province of New Brunswick’s tuition rebate continue. The scrapping of the tuition rebate, an operational grant freeze to universities and a tuition freeze were part of the Gallant government’s first budget released on March 31.
More than 18,000 people have signed a petition to reinstate the tuition rebate. The petition reads:
A large number of graduating students leave our province. Many who have chosen to stay in recent years have done so due to the tuition rebate program. A large number of tuition rebate recipients use this benefit to get themselves out of debt and make down payments on their first homes, thus stimulating the economy and keeping skilled individuals in NB. Eliminating the tuition rebate is short sighted and needs to be reversed. This benefit affects individuals and families that are trying to make it in NB, removing it alienates them and their integral role in moving NB forward.
According to Finance Minister Roger Melanson, “We feel there are better ways to support students who need it most. The New Brunswick Tuition Rebate helped only those students who have already graduated and are collecting salaries. It did nothing to help needy students enter the system in the first place.”
“My main problem is that I have yet to hear any plans regarding us students already enrolled. As far as I know, we’ve basically been thrown to the ditch to drown in debt forgotten. All the work I’ve done to get good grades. What does it mean now? I wanted to stay here, but I won’t be able to if I got to work out of debt for years. It just feels that younger people are getting chased out of NB more than invited in,” says Scott Uej, a third year archaeology student at the University of New Brunswick.
St. Thomas University President Dawn Russell, in a letter to faculty and staff on April 2, expressed concern with the province not following through on a commitment of a 2% increase in their operating grants. The freeze for 2015-16 for St. Thomas University is $237,000. However, “of greater concern” to Russell, “is the Province’s decision to impose a tuition freeze on universities for 2015-16, with no regard to the signed agreement in place with respect to tuition fees.”
According to Russell, the “combined impact of the operating grant freeze and tuition freeze is almost $900,000.”
When the Quebec Charest government in early 2012 tried to raise tuition, students there poured into the streets and stopped the tuition hike. Part of their manifesto read,
It is imperative to defend high quality, public, free education as a right of every single person. We demand more funding for education, because this is the only way to make the democratization of access to education possible and to guarantee student financial aid, university dining halls, housing for students, child care centers, in addition to struggling for democratization of the internal decision-making processes. We must guarantee respect for university autonomy, that the decisions be taken by the entire academic community. With each confrontation with dictatorships and austerity plans, the defense of public, high quality education is an essential demand of the youth for an education that meets the needs and interests of the working class.
The Parti Quebecois promised to halt tuition increases as part of their pre-election campaign promise and defeated the Liberal government in September 2012. In early April of this year, an estimated 100,000 people marched against austerity measures in Montreal.
Tracy Glynn is on the board of the NB Media Co-op.