Now that Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs has most of the seats in the New Brunswick Legislature, there will be nothing stopping him from drastically raising tuition.
A 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the province and the University of New Brunswick kept tuition increases to two per cent every year and provided multi-year funding to the university. While the MOU did not apply to St. Thomas University, tuition has also been rising there by two per cent every year.
The next MOU will decide how much and how fast universities will be allowed to raise tuition for students for the coming four years.
Given Higgs’ history of doing nothing but cutting in the name of the budget, there is no reason to believe that the next MOU will be anything other than an unprecedented and drastic rise in tuition, providing so little funding for universities that it would practically be a province wide tuition reset.
The New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA), like many organizations across the province, were disheartened to see that Higgs had taken a majority government. Upon his minority election two years ago, Higgs used the first opportunity he could to give less funding to students in need of support.
Though Higgs “expanded” the Tuition Access Bursary (TAB) to include students of private post-secondary institutions, he did so without granting any additional funding to the program, effectively cutting it in half for vulnerable students around the province.
Now that the current MOU is expiring next year, Higgs can do far worse than cut funding for a needs-based program, and he will likely use that same program to do so in a way very similar to how he cut funding to the TAB in 2019. Higgs will likely have to take money from education now that it will no longer be feasible to cut from healthcare, especially after his last attempt at doing so.
Because the TAB is a solution that was already fully implemented at one point, all the parties currently elected provincially have easy access to data proving that it works and benefits students.
The Green Party has already put out a press release that states they are dedicated to expanding the TAB with at least a $60,000 eligibility threshold, and once the date of the current MOU’s expiration gets closer, the Liberals and possibly the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick will likely advocate for its expansion as well. Not only because the data is already there to show that it works, but because it continues to be the primary objective of the NBSA, the province’s only representative student body.
With all the parties focused on the TAB expansion as their primary strategy of supporting students, Higgs will get away with a massive tuition hike so big that expanding the TAB will hardly make a difference for students, while at the same time expanding the TAB as a tokenistic gesture. He will rob New Brunswick students blind, while at the same time condemning us for being mad at him for doing what we asked.
An inaccessible post-secondary education system will mean less new people coming to the province as students, and a continued shortage of qualified social workers, teachers, personal support workers, nurses and other professionals that will only snowball the problems of the province.
The only up-side to the next MOU is that it may well be enough for the students of New Brunswick to realize that advocacy groups such as the NBSA are useless against governments that have no concern for us.
If even one school can get their student union out of the NBSA, either by petitioning their rival, the Canadian Federation of Students to hold an election for their student union to join them instead, or by electing student council members to vote that their union just withdraw, it would be enough to drastically undermine the NBSA’s authority as the provinces voice for students.
Once Higgs successfully hikes tuition and gets the provinces universities to sign his MOU, the NBSA will likely not be willing or capable of bringing tuition back down. Despite claims to the contrary, the NBSA rarely takes a public stance against the rising of tuition fees, and most certainly have never stopped or even tried to stop tuition from going up, much less reduce it.
Students will see for ourselves that non-partisan Get Out the Vote campaigns have no effect on a government that has been consistently trying to subvert voting, specifically the student and young adult vote.
Moving New Brunswick forward will have to mean moving education forward. If Higgs uses the next MOU to accelerate the defunding of education and put the province back even further in terms of accessible education, the province will be put back on multiple other issues as well.
Saving New Brunswick will have to mean saving its universities. Saving universities will have to mean students taking the will and courage to speak over the NBSA and take back the narrative of what students want from our government.
Naomi Gullison was a recent student at St. Thomas University and former member of STUdents for Free Tuition.