I am writing because I believe there is a misperception that Memorial University’s current underfunding is linked to its low tuition, a tuition that the Canadian Federation of Students advocated for. It’s been brought up several times while I’ve attended St. Thomas University.
Though I understand this perspective, I still respectfully disagree with this.
What is initially frustrating for me about arguments like this is that the points that have been made about the CFS’ advocacy being the indirect cause of underfunding at MUN could easily be made about the NBSA’s advocacy and cuts Premier Blaine Higgs has made to tuition bursaries.
Were we advocating for decreased tuition instead of focusing on our needs-based grants, Higgs would have still made the same dollar amount of cuts.
If CFS is responsible for MUN’s underfunding, why is the NBSA, and its national organization, the Canadian Association of Student Alliances, not responsible for the seriousness of Higgs’ cuts?
What is frustrating about arguments about MUN is not just that they are trying to blame a student union for their previous school’s financial crises, but also that some are coming to a more expensive school that for a long time was considered New Brunswick’s cheap option for university education, and spreading the narrative that trying to obtain a sustainable, accessible education will result in the same thing here.
What is dangerous about this argument, though, is that it could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we allow ourselves to be convinced that bigger classrooms and unmaintained buildings are a necessary sacrifice to keep tuition low, as they did at MUN, we’re making it easier for our administration to manipulate us.
One could argue that having such an aggressive student movement in Newfoundland would make the provincial government less sympathetic towards demands. When one says post-secondary education underfunding is completely the fault of the student unions, not only does this betray solidarity, but it also neglects the fact that the province’s funds have dropped significantly because approximately one-third of the province’s revenue usually comes from oil royalties. That amount dropped to $551.8-million from $1.2-billion in their 2015-16 budget. I do not think it is a coincidence that the provincial government wanted to just after oil companies declined their production.
New Brunswick does not have the problem of just recently striking into large pockets of oil in the province. If free tuition happens in this province, it will have to be from an increased corporate tax rate and reprioritizing corporate hand-outs to go towards programs that benefit us all.
If STU or the Higgs government decides to do anything monstrous like hike our tuition or class sizes, they will not be doing so because the province is poor, the school is poor, tuition is too low, or they think that we are not being reasonable. When students are hurt by budgets, it is because they are not prioritizing us.