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DSU meets with premier

By Lucy ScholeyNews Editor

Students made their voices heard in more than one way last Thursday.
The Alliance of Nova Scotia Students Associations (ANSSA), including delegates from the DSU, met with Premier Darrell Dexter and Education Minister Marilyn More.
It was the DSU’s first time meeting the premier.
“I felt very good coming out of it today, as a whole,” said DSU vice president (education) Rob LeForte. “It seemed that he was fairly receptive to all the ideas and especially the notion of having a strategic plan for post-secondary education.”
ANSSA, a student group that represents most post-secondary institutions in the province, presented a pre-budget submission report to the premier. In it, they recommended the government provide more grant money, eliminate the graduate tax credit, eliminate differential fees between Nova Scotians and out-of-province students, and conduct a review of post-secondary education.
But these needs are difficult to meet when the province is facing a $590-million deficit, said Leforte.
“He talked a lot about the reality of the current financial situation,” LeForte said. “So talking about coming into a job and being told that there’s a $500-plus million dollar deficit and how much it’s all about balance … is very realistic and I appreciate that (the premier) was forthright with us in that regard.”
But while LeForte is optimistic about the meeting, he says he’s not expecting any concrete answers yet.
“I understand that until an announcement is made and until they discuss it … it’s not a firm announcement or anything,” said LeForte. “But I think that the reality is that it is a possibility and if something like that is on the horizon, it’s something we’re going to keep working towards.”
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), a funding agreement between the universities and government, is due to expire March 2011. Both LeForte and ANSSA executive director Mark Coffin said a critical review of the province is needed before a new agreement can be made.
“We need a plan, regardless, and right now we don’t have one,” said Coffin. But the premier and education minister were receptive to the idea, he added.
“We’ve been pushing this for almost four years now, so it’s nice to see something coming from government,” he said. “Given that we’re the university capital of Canada now, we’re hoping that the province will start enacting policies and reviews like this one that live up to the title.”
Nova Scotia has the second highest post-secondary tuition rate in the country, after Ontario. On average, Nova Scotian students pay $5,696 a year.
To ease this, the former Conservative government introduced a tuition freeze for all students, with an added bursary for all Nova Scotian-born students. When Dexter was in opposition, he said he was against differential fees for students from outside the province. Coffin said ANSSA brought this up at the meeting.
“We sort of reminded him that that’s what he told us last time we met and he said, ‘You know, I’m not a fan, but the fiscal situation is this,’” said Coffin.
The tax credit has also been a contentious issue for ANSSA. The current government introduced the idea last fall. It comes as a $15,000 rebate, paid over six years, to any student who works in the province after graduation. Coffin said the tax credit wouldn’t work. The province should put that money toward helping students at the beginning of their degrees, not at the end.
Last fall, Dexter said the tax credit would be used to retain students.
“We really do need to find ways to ensure that young people from this province stay in this province,” he said.
At Thursday’s meeting, Dexter said the province should be on par with other provinces that have the same credit program.
“If another province has a graduate tax rebate program, it’s less likely that somebody would stay in Nova Scotia where there wouldn’t be one,” said LeForte.
Dexter encouraged the student representatives to continue pushing their recommendations in upcoming province-wide consultations with Finance Minister Graham Steele.


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