New Brunswick’s 2015-2016 budget was not particularly kind to students, but St. Thomas University probably got it worse.
“The news to us when the budget delivered was unexpected,” said university spokesman Jeffrey Carleton. “We had no indication in the pre-budget discussions that an operating grant freeze or a tuition freeze was being contemplated.”
The impact on STU’s budget next year is huge. The school, already facing financial hardship, now projects a nearly two million dollar shortfall next year, roughly doubling the original deficit projection.
In a briefing, President Dawn Russel said her advisory committee on the budget has made progress strategizing to close the initial million dollar gap, but said it will be a challenge to address an additional $900,000 with one month left before the committee is set to present its budget recommendations.
Meanwhile, graduating students’ finances will be further stretched by the scrapping of the New Brunswick Tuition Rebate, which the government website says was done “in order to refocus its resources to help students enter the post-secondary system.”
The tax rebate was made for post-secondary graduates working in-province, and allowed them to work off half the money they spent on tuition up to $20,000 in the form of income tax rebates.
The Aquinian’s own Stephanie Sirois was a force behind the introduction of the rebate in 2006. As a student at Harvey High School, she took part in a student-legislature event where her and a group of friends suggested a bill to legislature.
“They took our word at it and went forward with it,” she said. “They actually listened for once. Now that this is removed, they don’t have any reason to say they don’t know why people are leaving New Brunswick and going out West.”
St. Thomas University Students’ Union vice-president academic Sam Titus said it’s not all bad for students.
As promised, the Gallant government will also remove the “parental contribution” line from student loan applications, and the tuition freeze will likely help current students as well.
Titus is also a member of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, an advocacy group for students representing both of the University of New Brunswick campuses, STU and Mount Allison.
“In terms of the tuition rebate.. .We’re considering it a win at the NBSA,” he said.
“That is something we have been acting upon. I know a lot of people are upset because it’s a loss of financial aid to students. The fact remains it is a fairly ineffective program.”
He said the program doesn’t impact as many people as the change to the loan application, and that it is more important for the province to attract students to its universities than to keep them in province after.
“This is a very tight budget and we can’t get everything we want. If we can only have one or the other, we would rather have up-front grants,” he said on behalf of his school and the provincial alliance.
In 2013, St. Thomas was granted the ability to increase tuition beyond the three per cent per year the other universities in the province are held to, to a maximum three per cent plus $170 per year. This was so STU could bridge the gap between its tuition and the provincial average, which the school argued it had to do to remain financially viable.
Provincial operating grants were also frozen with the recent budget. The subsidy for universities made up nearly half of the school’s income, and was expected to increase by 2 per cent, and is estimated to cost STU $237,000.
The school is now in limbo, waiting on word from the government on whether they will be exempt from the changes.
Titus says one saving grace may be the new review process mandated in the budget, which will see all schools present their budget and testify before a committee.
“Like a Crown Corporation, their budget will have to be approved by a committee… What we hopes come out of this is if the government looks at that they could say ‘oh look at that you are spending correctly, you just don’t have enough money,” he said.