Students rally in Fredericton for affordable education

Student fear budget cuts will lead to tuition increases in the province

It was a cold walk as 195 students, professors, and supporters made the walk down the hill and through the city streets of Fredericton. (Alex Solak/NBBeacon)
It was a cold walk as 195 students, professors, and supporters made the walk down the hill and through the city streets of Fredericton. (Alex Solak/NBBeacon)

FREDERICTON (CUP) — Students in Fredericton rallied Tuesday against the possibility of tuition increases and further cuts to post-secondary education in New Brunswick.

Approximately 200 students marched from the campuses of St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick to the provincial legislature, where they gathered near the steps to voice their concerns.

“The students united will never be defeated,” the crowd chanted as they waved poster and placards. Some that read “Defenders of public education,” and “Fight tuition fees.”

The march and protest were organized by the St. Thomas University students’ union, with help of the student group Unite.

Ella Henry, St. Thomas students’ union president, said students’ unions from across the province are meeting with post-secondary education minister Martine Coulombe Wednesday to discuss funding.

“We don’t want to see cuts in [university] operating funding,” Henry said. “We’d like to see the tuition freeze maintained and investments in student financial aid. Some restructuring of programs, like the Timely Completion Benefit, so that the money is getting to the students who need it.”

 Post-Secondary Education (and Training and Labour) Minister Martine Coulombe (Alex Solak/NBBeacon)
Post-Secondary Education (and Training and Labour) Minister Martine Coulombe (Alex Solak/NBBeacon)

Coulombe appeared on the legislature steps near the end of the rally to assure the crowd that student leaders will continue to be involved in budget consultations.

“I hear you,” she said.

“Then do something about it,” shouted back Colin Belyea, a third-year St. Thomas student from Saint John, who says he’s incurred about $25,000 worth of debt in his three years at university.

Protesters interrupted Columbe throughout her megaphone address with cries for affordable education, while others hurled obscenities.

A freeze on tuition fees in the province is set to expire when the provincial budget is handed down this month, and student leaders in the province aren’t optimistic it will be renewed.

Last month, the government announced a little more than $3 million in cuts to post-secondary education, mainly aimed at the Repayment Assistance Plan, a program gives loan repayment relief to former student borrowers based on monthly student loan payments, on how much a former borrower earns, their family situation and how much money they owe in total.

A department spokesman said the cuts were a result of low program uptake and lower than expected interest rates.

The cuts are a part of the Progressive Conservative campaign promise to reduce government spending by one per cent.

Members of Strax and the New Brunswick Federation of Labour also took part in the demonstration. Strax, a social justice student group, said in a media statement the burden of debt forces students to overwork themselves in order to pay for their education.

“How could a real education be possible, one which requires critical reflection, if we must work 20 hours per week while we study?” the statement asks.

Alex Bailey, the NBFL’s vice-president for youth, said one way to offset the rising cost of education is to raise minimum wage in the province.

“Young students are also young workers,” said Bailey. “Students can’t pay their fees because wages are low.”

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