Students could see a rise in tuition if the government freezes or cuts St. Thomas University’s operating grant, says STU’s director of communications Jeffrey Carleton.
“If the government freezes our operating grant, our costs still go up,” said Carleton. “We don’t know yet the magnitude of what we’re facing.”
Earlier this month, the provincial government stated it’s looking at freezing or cutting the operating grants of universities by between $15 million and $45 million in light of decreasing enrolment.
While the provincial budget won’t be announced until Feb. 2 and nothing is certain before then, Carleton said the university was still concerned when it heard the news.
However, it’s important to note STU was already in year-three of a five-year agreement with the government to raise domestic tuition closer to the provincial average, which is $6,018.
Part of this agreement was that the government would raise the university’s annual operating grant by two per cent. However in late 2015 the government announced it would be freezing operating grants.
But while the government has stated in their Strategic Program Review it is considering cutting between $15 million to $45 million, it also stated the money “will be reinvested into the system.”
In this newer release, there is no mention of reinvestment.
“When they spoke about the funding formula for universities [in the Strategic Program Review] they spoke about it in context of performance-based funding and looking at a model that focuses more on outcomes,” Carleton said. “[In early January] there was a change in language that was not just a change in tone, but used slightly different wording with vastly different meaning.”
This change in wording was the removal of talk about changing the funding formula and the mention of finding savings through reducing or freezing operating grants.
St. Thomas was already functioning with only 86 per cent of the provincial average when it comes to their operating grant, $2.3 million less than other universities.
Carleton said the school was concerned when it heard the change in language.
“As a jurisdiction, New Brunswick has one of the lowest operating grants in the country and now, within New Brunswick, St. Thomas has been underfunded relative to other universities.”
St. Thomas receives $4.1 million a year in a provincial operating grant, of which $1.9 million goes directly to the UNB to pay for shared services like the library and mental health services.
This operating grant is roughly 51 per cent of STU’s revenue, said Carleton.
“We understand the fiscal situation of the government, however we also recognize our options are limited as well,” said Carleton. “We don’t have ways to generate revenue the way government does.”
The New Brunswick Student Alliance, a province-wide student organization, has sent off recommendations to the government for the 2016-17 provincial budget to help ensure student success.
Some of these recommendations include “reinvestment of funds from the tuition rebate program, the elimination of harmful income assessments for financial aid, an extension of Medicare to international students, and an increase in experiential learning opportunities.”
The Aquinian reached out to the Alliance for comment without success.
Carleton said the university is waiting to see the plans of the government before releasing its budget summary for next year, but will host a townhall-style meeting before then.