It isn’t just the students’ union that’s left in the dark about funding changes to post-secondary education in New Brunswick.
The St. Thomas University administration also knows little about the details of the four-year funding agreement that will be part of the upcoming provincial budget expected in late March.
Earlier this month, STU students’ union president Mark Livingstone said he was not satisfied with the amount of information given by the government about potential changes.
University spokesperson Jeffrey Carleton said university administrators have been meeting with the New Brunswick government to push STU’s position, but have not been given any specific indication about whether funding to STU will be increased, frozen or cut.
He said the meetings with the province “have been pretty healthy. The channels of communication have certainly been open, similar to what it has been in the past.”
“What’s different now is the very difficult financial circumstances facing the province of New Brunswick. That is certainly a factor in the discussions,” he said.
The provincial government has been trying to cut the deficit, projected to be $545.7 million for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
The university says it is too early to tell what impact changes in the budget could have on students, faculty and staff.
While the government deals with the financial issues, Carleton said STU president Dawn Russell has been lobbying to increase funding for STU to levels equal with other universities in the province.
“New Brunswick universities have been underfunded compared to universities across the country. Within New Brunswick, St. Thomas has been underfunded relative to UNB, Mount A. and U de M.
“Our students currently receive only about 83 per cent of the provincial average in terms of the provincial operating grants.”
He said that means STU students pay a higher proportion of the cost of their education than their counterparts.
“We feel that we have very little room for further restraint,” he added.
A presidential advisory committee is starting to work on the next budget for the university. Carleton said they have a tough job since they won’t find out until late March about any changes to funding levels.
“The committee is aware there is a range of possibilities from the government and they have to consider what those are.”
On Jan. 6, Livingstone met with members of the department of post-secondary education, training, and labour, and a series of funding scenarios were outlined to him and other student leaders.
One scenario would see operating grants, of which STU received $13.2 million in 2010-11, frozen.
The department estimated this would mean a tuition increase of eight to 10 per cent as universities try to cover costs.
Others include increasing grants to match the average four per cent yearly cost increases New Brunswick universities face.
In the 2010 election, Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward promised to create a tuition schedule that he said would show students the cost of tuition over four years.
In the last budget, the province allowed universities to increase tuition by up to $200, which STU did.
The budget also included a two per cent increase in funding for operational costs.
Carleton said universities have given the government a simple message.
“Recognizing the difficult circumstance the province is in, that they see universities as investments in education for the future, the future growth of the province, they see universities as economic generators and that the operating grants and any decisions on tuition or tuition direction will allow the universities to continue to provide the quality programming they will provide.”
A pre-budget consultation meeting will take place at the Maritime Forestry Complex at 6:30 p.m. tonight so the public can provide input on the provincial budget to the government.
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