Dwight Ball would consider tuition fee hike for non-N.L. MUN students

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball says when it comes to finding savings at Memorial University, he would look at maintaining a tuition freeze for Newfoundland and Labrador students, but a hike for students elsewhere in Canada.

Party leaders hold first-ever debate on On Point with David Cochrane

The province's three party leaders talk about tuition costs at Memorial University 6:16

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball says when it comes to finding savings at Memorial University, he would maintain a tuition freeze for Newfoundland and Labrador students, but consider a hike for students elsewhere in Canada.

Ball made the comments during a Thursday taping of this week's episode of On Point with David Cochrane, in the first debate with all three party leaders.

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball says he would consider increasing tuition costs for Canadian students from outside Newfoundland and Labrador in order to increase revenue at Memorial University. (CBC)

The debate — highlights of which will air Saturday at 7:30 p.m. NT, with the full event to be posted online — is a preview of the campaign for the Nov. 30 provincial election. 

According to Ball, the number of students currently in the province's K-12 school system doesn't meet critical mass to maintain a student body at a post-secondary institution the size of Memorial University.

The university is currently reviewing a 30 per cent tuition hike for international and graduate students, while maintaining the tuition freeze for Canadian undergraduate students, to cope with a $20-million cut to its operating grant announced in this year's provincial budget.

"First and foremost, we would continue the freeze for Newfoundland and Labrador students, those entering in Memorial University— that tuition freeze would be continued," he said.

"Then we have to be competitive in all the other areas when it comes to accommodations for people coming, for students coming in from outside, because the critical mass is extremely important to deliver and offer good solid programs at Memorial."

Ball said Memorial needs to be competitive with other institutions in Canada to keep attracting people to the province. He said raising tuition for out-of-province students would still mean some of the lowest tuition in the country.

Quality, not cheap, education

The provincial government announced last month it would not be making a $20-million contribution to the university's pension obligations, but Ball said that cut won't help find efficiencies at the university because it will need to be made up at some point in the future.

Premier Paul Davis said the Progressive Conservative government has elected to maintain a tuition-freeze policy for Memorial, but there is a need to find a better way to spend — and save — money, something he said the province hasn't done in some time.

Premier Paul Davis says this is the first instance in a long time that government has asked Memorial University to find savings in its operating budget, but government is committed to a freeze on tuition. (CBC)

"We've asked Memorial University to look at their operations and to find efficiencies and savings, and I'm not sure when that last time that's happened," said Davis.

He added that while the university needs to find savings somewhere, it's important to ensure it's delivering affordable education — not cheap education.

"We have to continue to make investments and make sure Memorial can continue to deliver quality students, deliver that quality product," said Davis.

"As well, we also have to live within our means and look at the finances and the cost associated with that and we asked them to find efficiencies in their own operation."

International students can't afford hike: NDP

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Earle McCurdy said hiking up tuition for students coming from outside Canada may not be the ideal solution, since those increased costs could mean a lower enrolment rate.

At a meeting at MUN in May, McCurdy said he heard from a number of international students who said increasing their fees will mean some of them will no longer be able to afford to attend.
NDP Leader Earle McCurdy says hiking tuition for international students to increase revenue at Memorial University may not be a solution, because it could mean fewer students enrolling. (CBC)

"Raising the fees by 30 per cent does not necessarily equate raising the revenue by 30 per cent because you likely won't get as many people come, so it may be a false economy there," he said.

"I applaud the policy of the past number of years of keeping our tuition freeze as low as they've been and I think we should continue. I applaud being able to attract foreign students because we need to be able to do so.'

McCurdy said he's concerned this change in tuition fees may indicate an overall change to tuition policy coming in the future.