University students held a day of action for free education on Wednesday, with rallies taking place in Fredericton and across Canada.
Free tuition is a longstanding demand from the student movement, and although the policy has been implemented in a number of countries around the world, the issue receives relatively little attention in Canada.
According to the Canadian Federation of Students, which organized Wednesday’s protests, average tuition fees have more than doubled over the past 20 years for undergrads.
At the University of New Brunswick, annual tuition and other fees this year reached $9,205 for domestic arts students, and $20,640 for international students.
Students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in New Brunswick end their studies with $40,000 in debt on average, according to 2015 data from Statistics Canada. That’s more than anywhere in the country, except for Nova Scotia.
The Federation of NB Faculty Associations has attributed tuition hikes and heavy debt loads to a gradual decline in provincial funding, at least in terms of the share of costs shouldered by the province.
That group has stated that provincial funding for New Brunswick’s public universities peaked in 1979-80 at about 82 per cent of total operating costs, a figure that declined to 56 per cent by 2019-20.
The provincial government’s budget for 2023-24 includes “up to $8.4 million to be invested in operational funding for public universities,” an increase of less than four per cent. The budget also includes $7.6 million to increase loans and bursaries for students requiring financial assistance.
Critics say it isn’t nearly enough to offset decades of underfunding in the post-secondary education system, especially at a time of high inflation and a widespread cost-of-living crisis.
Ahead of Wednesday’s protest, three campaigners – June Patterson, Dora Szemok and Keegan Webster – spoke to the NB Media Co-op about the state of the student movement, the effects of high tuition, and more.
David Gordon Koch is a journalist with the NB Media Co-op. This reporting has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada, administered by the Canadian Association of Community Television Stations and Users (CACTUS).