N.B. budget gives little mention to students

The expected budget-day bomb was a dud.

Student leaders feared cuts to university funding and tuition increases before the 2012-13 New Brunswick budget was released last week.

But the budget gave almost no indication of government plans.

The only thing confirmed is that universities will be able to increase tuition for Canadian students by $175 next year.

The lack of detail surprised student representatives.

The department of post-secondary education has been reviewing student financial aid programs this year.

Mark Livingstone, president of the St. Thomas University students’ union, said the department was falling behind in its review but didn’t expect such a lackluster budget.

After reviewing it, Livingstone went back through the records.

“This budget was the first time in about 10 years that students were not mentioned,” he said.

The department of post-secondary education offered little explanation.

Joey O’Kane was also unhappy.

Joey O’Kane, president of the New Brunswick Student Alliance. (Alyssa Mosher/AQ file photo)

“I’m disappointed with the government falling behind,” said O’Kane, president of the New Brunswick Student Alliance. NBSA is a provincial post-secondary lobbying group representing nearly 16,000 students.

“It is disappointing – they did miss an opportunity to invest in students.”

Marie-Josee Groulx said there is “no reason in particular” why PSE is not in the budget or in the speech delivered by the finance minister last week.

Groulx, spokeswoman for the Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour department, said students will have to wait a few more weeks.

“There is good news for students that is going to be coming in the next few weeks,” she said.

She couldn’t offer any specifics, just that it’s about changes to financial aid programs. She said it will also provide things student leaders like O’Kane have asked for in meetings with the government.

“There will be a lot of details when the minister does her budgetary estimates sometime this spring,” said Groulx.

But that doesn’t satisfy O’Kane.

“It is unacceptable if they release the budget while students are away for summer vacation,” he said.

St. Thomas University is also in the dark about changes and that has left the university’s budget for next year unfinished.

“We were surprised not to see any specific mention in the budget documents, as far as I’m aware of, of students,” said STU spokesman Jeffrey Carleton.

“We’re waiting just like students to find out what changes.”

He said the university has an idea how many students will be enrolled next year – which provides revenue – but is working to produce a budget that turns a profit.

He hinted that cost-cutting measures may be coming, but would not provide specifics.

“We know we’re going to have to make some decisions about priorities and make decisions about the strategic direction of the university.”

Carleton said it isn’t extraordinary for the university to not have a budget in place until students are already gone.

“Because of the unknowns it is too early to say what this will mean for students.”

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