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Smallwood proposes free year of university for Newfoundlanders

The Story


Joey Smallwood is a man familiar with controversy. And on March 8, 1965, Newfoundland's passionate premier stirs up debate yet again when he introduces free tuition for first-year Memorial University students. The first initiative of its kind in Canada, Smallwood sees education as the key to economic and social prosperity for the province. But as this debate between University Vice-Chancellor Lord Stephen Taylor and high school students reveals, the move is receiving mixed reviews.

Medium: Radio
Program: It's Debatable
Broadcast Date: April 4, 1969
Guest(s): David McCurdy, Donna Morgan, Lord Stephen Taylor
Moderator: Elwy Yost
Duration: 5:44
Photo: Memorial University of Newfoundland

Did You know?


• Memorial officially opened its doors on Sept. 15, 1925, under the name of Memorial University College. The institution was renamed Memorial University of Newfoundland on Aug. 13, 1949, when the House of Assembly enacted legislation granting Memorial university status.
• With approximately 17,000 students in 2006, Memorial University of Newfoundland is the only university in Newfoundland and Labrador and the largest university in Atlantic Canada.

• Established as a living memorial to the Newfoundlanders who had lost their lives during the First World War, the name Memorial University College was chosen. The university was later rededicated to include those in the province who lost their lives during the Second World War as well.

• Premier Smallwood originally granted free tuition to all first-year students from Newfoundland attending Memorial University. In time, the number of students eligible for free education was limited by a "means test." Though the exact parameters of the test were complex, it basically determined eligibility according to the income of a student's parents.
• Free tuition at Memorial no longer exists. Instead, undergraduate students pay approximately $2,550 in fees per year.

• Joseph Roberts (Joey) Smallwood was the main proponent of Newfoundland's entry into Canada in 1949. Upon winning a referendum, the province joined Confederation and Smallwood, a journalist, pig farmer and activist, was elected its first premier. He held onto that role until 1972 when he lost that year's election, but remained in the house of assembly until 1977. Joey Smallwood died in 1991.

• There were some who questioned Smallwood's initiative, saying that the money invested in universities could have been put to better use elsewhere in the province. Others felt the program would create freeloaders, students who would take advantage of the system and, upon graduating, would move out of the province, taking their skills and knowledge with them. These detractors believed Newfoundland would end up paying too high a price for free tuition.

• Canadian personality and CBC host and pundit Rex Murphy rose to national attention when he challenged Smallwood and his government's announcement of free tuition. As a student activist at Memorial University, Murphy delivered a speech in Lennoxville, Que., calling Smallwood's proposal a sham, an empty promise. An angry Smallwood warned Murphy not to return to the university campus. But Murphy did return and was elected president of Memorial University Student Council. And the government did, in fact, follow through on its pledge, providing free tuition plus a $50 living allowance.

• Lord Stephen Taylor of Harlow was born in England on Dec. 30, 1910. A physician, he served in Britain's Parliament from 1945 to 1954 and was appointed to the House of Lords in 1958. In 1966, Smallwood appointed him president of Memorial, a position he held until his retirement in 1973. Taylor died in Wales on Feb. 1, 1988.


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