The Memorial University board of regents voted to pass a controversial proposed budget Thursday, approving both new fees and tuition hikes.
The financial plan calls for a freeze on tuition costs for Newfoundland and Labrador students until 2021, but all students will be hit with new course and campus renewal fees, as well as a tuition increase for new students from outside the province starting in the fall of 2018.
The plan also proposed $13.4 million in spending cuts over the next three years.
"Any new student that comes, it's fair game to say, 'This is what the tuition will be in 2018. You can choose to come here — because we've got great programs — and even with that increased cost, we will still be the least expensive program in Canada,'" MUN president Gary Kachanoski told reporters Thursday evening after the budget was passed.
Kachanoski defended the new fees and said he understands that student emotions are high, but the university and the board have certain responsibilities to uphold.
"Infrastructure on campus needs to be addressed and we simply can't continue to say we're offering 21st-century teaching and learning and research in 20th-century infrastructure that is falling apart," he said.
"I think the students are passionate about what they're saying and I accept that. We're hoping that they can understand the board has a responsibility to make the decisions in the best interest of the university, as is our responsibility to put forward budget proposals that are in the best interest of the university."
Kachanoski said he remains committed to the university and has no plans to resign.
Students stormed a board meeting Thursday afternoon at R. Gushue Hall when Alex Noel, a student giving a presentation on an alternate plan to the budget, opened an emergency exit and let protesters into the meeting room.
"People needed to see what the university administration does behind closed doors," Noel said.
"This is a public institution and it has to remain accountable and transparent."
Thursday's protest was organized by MUN students' union (MUNSU). Members of the board got up and left the room when students entered and began chanting.
MUN's administration has said the new fees and increases are badly needed, as it needs to find ways to generate new revenue to keep up with infrastructure maintenance.
MUNSU has also expressed concern over the cuts to staff and faculty, the 30 per cent fee hike for new out-of-province and international students and the new campus renewal and student services fees.
The union argues the changes will add $900 per year to the costs of full-time undergraduate students, and more than $600 per year for graduate students.
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