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Advocating for a free education

Cape Breton University has recently launched “Zero Tuition Canada,” a campaign calling for free tuition and a nationwide discussion on the issues of continuous fee hikes and student debt.

University president David Wheeler, Faculty Association president Scott Stewart and Students’ Union president Brandon Ellis expressed these concerns on their blog in an open letter to federal leaders dated March 4.

“It’s unprecedented for a university president to take such a stance, but it shows a lot of wisdom and foresight on his part,” says John Hutton, a co-founder of the group Dal Students Against Fee Hikes.

Hutton says the budgeting and funding issues at Dalhousie are similar to those at CBU and is worried that Dal’s current funding model is unsustainable.

“There are definitely some misplaced priorities that don’t put students and teaching and learning first,” says Hutton.

Dal Students Against Fee Hikes will be hosting an event on March 24, offering students free poutine and a space to discuss education issues.

Hutton says the group also plans to put pressure on Dalhousie University president Richard Florizone to discuss tuition issues at Dal and stand in solidarity with students and faculty.

Dalhousie’s Budget Advisory Committee released a report on March 5 that recommended a three per cent increase in tuition fees, as well as a three per cent increase in auxiliary facilities renewal fees and cuts to faculty budgets.

These increases are capped at three per cent, in accordance with the 2012 memorandum of understanding between Nova Scotian universities and the provincial government.

These agreements are designed to provide multi-year stability for universities to base a budget on. A new memorandum is scheduled for 2015, and Hutton says that students should have a voice in the new agreement.

Over the past 10 years, Dal has had to deal with a nine per cent decrease in provincial funding to their budget, while operating costs have risen. Hutton says this points to structural problems within the government.

“It’s an issue of priorities within government,” said Hutton. “Free tuition is not a radical idea. Canada can fund tuition with a one per cent [goods and services tax] increase.”

A one per cent GST increase would create funds within the six to seven billion dollar range.

“The reality is universities can’t continue to raise fees and cut their budgets forever. Something has to change,” says Hutton. “We should really be talking about free tuition because it’s important and it’s so within our reach.”

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