Post-Secondary education, training and labour Minister Danny Soucy has yet to make a decision on the fate of STU’s $13.5 million provincial operating grant – nearly half of the university’s budgeted income.
A cut to the school’s funding from the province is the most obvious punishment at the disposal of the Alward government, after the university’s administration breached a cap on tuition increases in May.
STU’s administration believes they have every right to set their own tuition. Director of communications Jeffrey Carleton said he would be “surprised” if the school was punished.
“It’s not a cap. It’s a recommendation. They made the recommendation that the tuition [increase] cap be set at $150, and we chose not to follow that recommendation,” Carleton said. “Our board has legislative power to set the tuition for the university, the government does not.”
STU raised tuition by $434 for domestic students in May. This touched off a few idle words between the two parties, with no action made on the part of the government.
With the tuition hike came an accessibility bursary available to students deemed “low income” by the province, worth $300.
Carleton cites The Act to Incorporate St. Thomas College of 1934, which states St. Thomas College as its own corporation and thus is entitled “to purchase, or otherwise obtain, receive, hold, any and all… properties, money and investments.”
Updates to the act in 1939 and 1960 do not nullify this clause.
The STU President’s Advisory Committee on Budget announced a rough plan to close the gap between tuition costs at STU and the average tuition in N.B. in April. The estimate called for two years of $400 dollar increases to tuition.
Former STU Student’s Union President John Hoben believes provincial government action is needed, but not in cutting funding to the university.
“We’re just waiting on the government to do something that should have been and probably will be done. I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel that raising the tuition is not the way to go about it. I think filling the seats will be the best thing for this issue,” said Hoben in reference to STU’s lagging recruitment.
“We should be striving to be the education province.”
Regardless of the government’s decision, the post-secondary students of N.B. are in a vulnerable position.
A decision to give STU the grant money in full would set a dangerous precedent for other universities in the region that may also wish to increase tuition.
Cutting the school’s provincial funding could force STU to operate at a financial loss or make serious spending cuts this year and would serve to solidify plans for more tuition increases.
“At the end of the day the government’s objective is accessibility for students. St. Thomas has the lowest tuition in the province. We’ve been the most accessible university in New Brunswick for many years. We can’t see why the province would want to punish us for living up to their goals,” said Carleton.
The students await a decision.
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