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Second place no reason to cheer

By Jake ByrneStaff Contributor

Statistics Canada released its annual Tuition Fee Report last month detailing average tuition fees across the country. According to the report, tuition fees in Nova Scotia dropped 3.1 per cent, meaning we now pay the second highest fees in the country as opposed to the highest; a title we held for two decades.
The government was quick to pat themselves on the back. “Lower tuition will help ensure more young people are able to attend our world-class universities,” cheered one press release.
But wait a minute. There’s no tuition fee reduction in place in Nova Scotia, so how did we lose the Stats Can title of highest fees in the country?
The fact is that tuition fees in Nova Scotia have remained the same since 2007 when the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with universities guaranteeing more funding in exchange for a tuition fee freeze. This was a step in the right direction but did not remedy the damage done by decades of under-funding and massive tuition fee increases.
Twenty years of sky-high fees means the average student’s debt has climbed to almost $30,000 and a slew of Nova Scotia youth have fled the province to study or work in other, less expensive, provinces. Four years ago, in response to this growing problem, the Progressive Conservative government of the day promised to bring tuition fees down to the national average. At the time, students cautiously applauded the move, but we later found out how the government planed to reach its goal – by freezing tuition fees and waiting for fees in other provinces to meet, or pass, those in Nova Scotia. Ontario, which according to the report now has the highest fees, did just that. Since 2006, fees in that province have been allowed to increase a total of 20 to 36 per cent.
In the meantime, the government has provided only some students (Nova Scotia students studying in the province) with a $267 per year tuition fee “rebate”, the equivalent of a tuition fee coupon with a 2011 expiry date. Due to this rebate scheme, Nova Scotia is one of only two provinces that charges out-of-province students higher fees. Both the provincial government and Stats Can count this rebate as a reduction.
A true reduction in tuition fees would apply to all students, and would be included in the province’s annual budget for universities, rather than as an “instant rebate”. It has been four months since the current government took office and it has failed to provide a comprehensive plan, or even a tangible outline, of how it plans to improve access to post-secondary education in Nova Scotia. The NDP government needs to make a real investment to reduce tuition fees for all students. With the $14 million this government has pledged for tuition fee tax credits, we could reduce tuition fees across the board by $350 – nearly triple the province’s need-based grants program.
Myself and other representatives of the Canadian Federation of Students have met with decision makers on both the provincial and federal level, including Education Minister Marilyn More, to lobby for real tuition fee relief and increases in government funding and grants. But as they say there’s “strength in numbers” and if we ever want to see this government reduce fees we, as students, need to flex our collective muscle.
This semester, students from across the province have already collected thousands of signatures on a petition calling for reduced fees for all students, an increase in per-student funding to the national average, and 50 per cent of every provincial student loan to be provided as a grant. We will present this petition to the Nova Scotia legislature.
So pick up a pen, a clipboard, and a stack of petitions and hit the streets or hallways. Because when students work together, we get results.

Jake Byrne is the Nova Scotia Representative of the Canadian Federation of Students and a second-year student at the University of King’s College.

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