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ANSSA launches website in response to tuition freeze

By Meriha Beaton, News Contributor

 

The Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations (ANSSA) has created a new website, TappedOut.ca, to help students get their voices heard by the government.

ANSSA thinks a study by economist Tim O’Neill released one month ago might prompt Premier Darryl Dexter to lift the tuition freeze currently in place for university students. If this happens, thy say, the government will be able to raise tuition fees as high as they like.

ANSSA, representing more than 80 per cent of Nova Scotia students, are putting their foot down, as the cost of tuition in the province is already the third highest in Canada.

“We are trying to pre-empt them making a bad decision for students,” says Rob LeForte, Vice President of the Dalhousie Student Union and a chair of ANSSA.

The website functions as a communication facilitator. A standard letter is set up on the website, and all students need to do is submit their full name, address and email address. Once the simple survey is complete, the letter is sent to the Education Minister and your MLA. The more letters that are sent, the stronger the message will be.

“These letters will show the government that it’s not just the ten people they meet with on a regular basis who are concerned about the issue,” says LeForte. “But that there is strong grassroots support behind the proposals we put forth, like maintaining the tuition freeze.”

TappedOut.ca is also a tool used to alert the presidents of each university. While some universities have made their feelings over the matter clear, others have been a little quieter.

“Mount Saint Vincent and Cape Breton University have already expressed opposition to tuition increases,” says Mark Coffin, executive director of ANSSA. “Meanwhile administrations (at) Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s and St. FX have been most hesitant to express any concern over the recommendations.”

The campaign wants to be heard not only by the government, but by students and universities.

“The universities have an important role to play in keeping tuition low,” says Coffin.

As of now, the tuition freeze is being funded by the government, $30,000,000 in last year’s budget. If this funding is lowered, and the freeze lifted universities will most likely to find an alternative source of income in their students.

“The universities will have to make up for the money they were receiving from the province and the only other guaranteed source of revenue is coming out of students ’ pockets,” says LeForte.

With these changes in question, the O’Neill report suggests to accompany the raise in tuition with more accommodating financial assistance for students. The province, however, is already one of the most expensive places to pursue post-secondary education.

“In my opinion and in the opinion of the ANSSA, student assistance could not be raised enough, or immediately enough to deal with the challenges that may face our students next year,” says LeForte.

Nova Scotia students already struggle to make ends meet while attending classes. Student loans, both from within provincial and federal, barely cover the cost of living expenses once tuition has been paid.

“After my tuition is paid, my student loans cover only one month’s rent, pretty much,” says Shannon McCabe, a third-year Saint Mary’s student. “I always need to work extra hard to be able to live in Halifax.”

Post-graduates in Nova Scotia have the highest debt load in the country,  averaging $31, 900. This massive amount of debt is enough to drive graduate students away from the province, ANSSA says. The Alliance says this increase in tuition is bound to drive even prospective students away from Nova Scotia universities.

“Basically, I can only do one more year, because then I need to stop and take a break from school and just work until I can pay off my debt … I can’t afford another year of school,” says Matt Cottingham, a fourth-year King’s student.

Through Tappedout.ca, ANSSA wants to help students fight the battles they can’t on their own.

“Now that I know about the website, I’m probably going to send one of the letters to let the government know how their choices will affect me as a student,” says McCabe. “I think the website is a really good way to get students aware and involved.”

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