New Brunswick

STU the odd school out as universities reach funding, tuition deal

Three of the province’s four publicly funded universities have signed agreement that will boost funding and cap tuition for New Brunswick students.

As part of the deal, universities agree to appear before a legislative committee

Roger Melanson says a requirement that universities answer questions in front of a legislative committee won't affect their independence. (CBC NEWS)

Three of the province's four publicly funded universities have signed agreements with the provincial government for a little more money and a tuition cap for New Brunswick students.

Post-Secondary Education Minister Roger Melanson announced Thursday that an agreement was reached with  University of New Brunswick, University of Moncton and Mount Allison University.

The odd school out is St. Thomas University, which says it is underfunded and cannot accept the province's proposal.

The memorandum of understanding the Liberal government signed with the other schools covers the academic years from the 2017-18 to 2020-21. 

During that time, those three universities will receive an annual one per cent increase in operational funding for the first three years followed by a two per cent bump for 2020-21.

St. Thomas University says it won't sign the agreement because it believes it's underfunded. (CBC)

Also in the agreement is a two per cent tuition cap for New Brunswick students enrolled in a program in 2018-19 or earlier. The cap will remain for the duration of their degree.

The three universities have also agreed to appear before a legislative committee to explain their spending choices.

Melanson said the arrangement doesn't undermine the universities' independence, and the committee won't direct how they spend their money.

"We feel very good about it," Melanson said during a news conference in Fredericton. "I think it's right to have New Brunswickers clearly understand where these dollars are being invested through our universities."

He said the four universities receive about $230 million combined from the province each year, and the new four-year agreement would add, incrementally, another $45 million.

St. Thomas won't sign

Peter Forestell, the chairman of the STU board of governors, and Dawn Russell, the university president, said in a joint statement Thursday they are disappointed the school has been unable to reach an agreement with the province.

STU called the existing funding framework unfair, saying STU students are underfunded compared with those at the University of Moncton, University of New Brunswick and Mount Allison.

"While previous Provincial Governments have recognized the funding anomaly and taken incremental steps towards a resolution, we have been unable to make any progress with this Government. Given the importance of the issue, our Board of Governors has directed that STU not sign any agreement that does not make progress in correcting this funding inequity."

STU president Dawn Russell says the university hasn't made any progress with the current government.

The fiscal strain makes its difficult for STU to maintain its level of education and also means less financial support for students, the university said.

STU has been making this argument for years. In 2013, the university ignored a tuition cap set by the Progressive Conservative government of David Alward.

On Thursday, Melanson said discussions with STU continue.

Tuition cap for New Brunswickers

The tuition cap does not cover out-of-province students.

Universities would be able to further adjust tuition, though the earliest a change would come into effect would be the 2019-20 school year and it would apply solely to new students enrolled that year.

The University of New Brunswick was one of three universities to strike a deal with the provincial government on funding and tuition. (Submitted by UNB)

"It's the responsibility of the university," Melanson said. "I can't predict what that outcome will be, but it's something they want to have."

The agreements also include funding for pilot projects aimed at increasing enrolment and creating research and development opportunities.

Melanson said negotiations lasted more than a year and a half.