Fighting for equal funding

St. Thomas University’s associate vice-president communications Jeffrey Carleton said STU is still receiving less money than it should from the provincial government.

Appearing before the Legislative Committee on Public Universities on Sept. 26, members of the STU administration once again presented their case to the provincial government, this time to a group of approximately 20 members of the Legislative Assembly from all elected political parties, for a move to more equitable funding for the university.

“Despite the facts, despite the evidence, there is yet no resolution and this inequity continues. Mr. Chair and members of the committee, STU has been a success in every measure that is important … quality, accessibility, financial, stewardship, sports, graduates; the rewards should not be continued under-funding,” said STU president and vice-chancellor Dawn Russell at the committee gathering.

Still ‘inequitable’

Despite signing the unchanged Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, with the Government of New Brunswick on July 22 after three years of negotiations in an attempt to gain equitable funding with the rest of the province’s public universities, Carleton said STU has the lowest operating grant at 89 per cent of the provincial average.

The MOU is an agreement between publicly funded universities in the province and the provincial government, where the government provides funding in the form of an operating grant and regulates tuition increase for New Brunswick students, said Carleton.

University of New Brunswick gets 96 per cent of the provincial average of funds universities receive from the operating grant, while Université de Moncton receives 115 per cent and Mount Allison University receives 92 per cent. The operating grant is money the government provides to publicly funded universities in New Brunswick, resulting from the MOU.

“We’ve certainly made it clear to them that we were not abandoning our case, that our students are not being treated equitably under the operating grant, under the funding formula,” said Carleton.

Carleton said about 48 per cent of STU’s operating revenues come from the operating grant of the MOU, another 48 per cent from students’ tuition and roughly 4 per cent from miscellaneous revenue sources, such as donations, athletics and funds from the government for student jobs.

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Carleton said the operating grant is set on a formula that was established in the mid-1970s. The amount the universities receive is calculated in two aspects: a base funding grant and an enrolment portion.

In the late ’90s, the government suspended the portion of the operating grant that allowed for increased adjustments when STU’s enrolment increased significantly, said Carleton. He said this means STU’s operating grant was not adjusted to annual changes in inflation.

Since the time the formula was established, STU has added more programs to its curriculum, and these changes are also not reflected in the increase for funding, added Carleton.

The memorandum is signed every three to four years. 

The Department of Post-Secondary Education Training and Labour could not be reached for comment before print time.

Left out 

In 2016, STU decided not to sign the MOU because they believed there was an inequity in the operating grant that had to be corrected. They were the only publicly funded university in the province left out of the agreement the University of New Brunswick, Université de Moncton and Mount Allison University had signed off on and were benefiting from.

That meant they weren’t benefiting from the general increases of the operating grant every year since their refusal to sign the agreement in 2016.

While STU had been receiving an annual operating grant from the province of $14 million since 2016 until the time the MOU was signed, Mount Allison University received $20 million, Université de Moncton $64 million and the University of New Brunswick $110 million.

Overall, STU decided to sign the agreement to gain the cumulative increases of $736,000 over three years, said Carleton.

Is tuition affected? 

Despite signing the MOU and receiving the $700,000, Carleton said tuition will keep increasing because university costs increase over 3 per cent every year. The money from the adjustments will be used to take care of STU’s annual $350,000 deficit and fund other activities, such as experiential learning. STU’s tuition costs are at the provincial average.

“What it does is it adds to our general funds, it does not take away the need for any increase in tuition,” he said.

Université de Moncton is the only public university in the province to receive payments from the university to help them mitigate tuition increases for students. For the 2017-18 academic year, they received $846,220 from the provincial government for this purpose.  

Still, since signing the MOU, STU is held to the MOU’s tuition increase cap requirements. It means that universities must cap tuition increase at two per cent for New Brunswick students that were enrolled as full-time in 2018-19 for the duration of their degree.

Still fighting 

Since the agreement was signed in July 2019, STU’s board of governors and the president have had six meetings with the minister of post-secondary education and other elected officials about the inequity.

Carleton said that STU doesn’t want to reach 100 per cent of the provincial average of the operating grant, but rather be funded at the same level as Mount Allison University, which is the most comparable university to STU because of similar programs and size. Receiving an amount equal to what Mount Allison receives would mean a boost of $585,000 in funds for STU.

At the Legislative Committee on Public Universities on Sept. 26, president and vice-chancellor of STU Dawn Russell said STU’s greatest challenge, the MOU, is not something STU can control. She said it’s also not the responsibility of STU students to pay higher tuition to make up for the disparity.

One question had no clear answer from the MLAs of the committee after her speech.

“Why do New Brunswick students at STU deserve less funding than other New Brunswick students?”

With files from Caitlin Dutt

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