Universities in Nova Scotia are freezing tuition at current levels for the next three years.

The provincial government and Nova Scotia's 11 post-secondary schools announced the new funding agreement Monday, saying it will help make a university education more affordable and attract students to Nova Scotia.

"No student, whether from Nova Scotia, [elsewhere in] Canada or any other country, whether in an undergraduate or a graduate or a professional program, will pay more in tuition," said Education Minister Karen Casey.

For years, Nova Scotia has had some of the highest tuition costs in the country. This year, the average undergraduate tuition in the province was $5,878, according to Statistics Canada.

Many schools have also seen enrolment plummet.

In addition to the tuition freeze, there is also a $66-million bursary program to entice students to study in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotians who choose to study in their home province can qualify for $761 in the next school year, $1,022 in 2009-10 and $1,283 in 2010-11. Out-of-province students will be able to get bursaries of $261 in 2010-11.

The discrepancy in funding sends the message that students who call another province home matter less, said Leonard Preyra, the NDP's critic for post-secondary education.

"We really have to be careful because Nova Scotia is an education destination in a knowledge-dependent world, and we need to make sure that we don't starve or kill the goose that lays the golden egg for us," said Preyra, a former professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

Students critical of two-tier bursary program

Student leader Kaley Kennedy also questions the two-tier bursary program.

"I think it definitely discourages students," said Kennedy, with the Canadian Federation of Students in Nova Scotia. "It says that the MacDonald government doesn't care about students who come from out of province."

Close to one-third of university students in Nova Scotia moved from somewhere else, Kennedy said, so they deserve a rollback now.

But Casey said the move fulfils the Progressive Conservative government's pledge to lower tuition for students from Nova Scotia to the national average by 2010.

"I understand what the commitment was, and I believe that what we're doing is meeting that commitment," she said.

Tom Traves, chairman of the Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents, said students will still pay less.

"For a student, if they ask what did you pay last year, and what are you going to pay next year? The answer is we're going to pay less next year than we paid this year," said Traves, president of Dalhousie University in Halifax.

The province is giving the universities an extra $180 million to eliminate tuition increases over the next three years.

The current three-year agreement expires Monday.