A decision by Saint Mary's University to raise tuition fees is part of a "reckless gamble" by the Nova Scotia government, which lifted the cap off tuition earlier this year, the Canadian Federal of Students says.

"This is only going to add to declining enrolment numbers," Nova Scotia representative Michaela Sam said Saturday.

Saint Mary's students will see their tuition go up by $194 to $540 annually over the next three years, the school's board of governors announced Friday.

That works out to be a total tuition increase of $582 to $1,520 to be phased in over three years.


Saint Mary's University students will pay more for tuition over the next three years, the school's board of governors announced Friday. (CBC)

Both the university-aged population and demand for a university education among people in the region is shrinking, found a study by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission in February. Around 3,000 fewer students are attending Nova Scotia post-secondary institutions than a decade ago, the report said.

That trend will be worsened by higher tuition, Sam said.

"The government wants students to stay here and work and become entrepreneurs. That can't happen with the incredibly high debt load students are carrying," Sam said.

"The Nova Scotia government has a responsibility to properly fund universities." 

Students graduating from Nova Scotia universities owe an average $37,000 in education-related loans, Sam said.

The board said tuition at Saint Mary's has historically been lower than other institutions and the gap has widened over years of a province-wide cap on tuition costs.

"Saint Mary's is a top-five undergraduate university in Canada, and our tuition adjustment reflects market expectations for a post-secondary education," a university news release said Friday.

The hikes apply to undergraduate courses, which will see hikes of $39 to $108 per full course.

Earlier this year, the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education gave all Nova Scotia universities permission to implement a one-time tuition hike.

There had been a three-per cent tuition cap for universities and the Nova Scotia Community College system.