Nfld. & Labrador

Students denounce proposed lift of N.L. tuition freeze

Recommendations in a comprehensive report examining Newfoundland and Labrador's university and college system aren't sitting well with some students in the province.

MUN, CNA officials still studying education report released Thursday

Kat McLaughlin, the advocacy director of Memorial University's student union, says students have concerns about the latest recommendation to lift the university's tuition freeze. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

A comprehensive report examining Newfoundland and Labrador's post-secondary education system isn't sitting well with some students in the province, especially its recommendation to lift a long-standing tuition freeze.

That recommendation is one of dozens in the 350-page report All Hands on Deck, written by an independent committee appointed by the provincial government in 2019, and released Thursday.

Kat McLaughlin, Memorial University's student union's director of advocacy, told CBC News it will take a while to digest the massive report but she has concerns about lifting the government-funded tuition freeze.

"I really do think that the tuition freeze and the affordable tuition is one of the main factors that draws students to MUN across the province, across the world," McLaughlin said shortly after the report was released. 

"It's one of the main reasons why students from Newfoundland and Labrador stay in Newfoundland and Labrador."

McLaughlin said she thinks one of the biggest problems with lifting the tuition freeze would be that future students won't consider the school as a viable option and will increase the outmigration of young people from the province. 

On Thursday, Education Minister Tom Osborne told reporters the provincial government has paid Memorial University $600 million since 2005 to avoid tuition hikes, and costs are rising every year. Osborne declined to say whether he would champion lifting the freeze.

Memorial University tuition is $2,550 per year for full-time undergraduate students from Newfoundland and Labrador. According to Statistics Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador's average annual undergraduate tuition fees are the lowest of any province, with the national average sitting at $6,580.

Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest undergraduate tuition fees in the country, according to Statistics Canada. (Paul Daly/CBC)

Fears of outmigration

The Canadian Federation of Students Newfoundland and Labrador also took issue with the proposed thawing of the tuition freeze, and said the provincial government has "no desire to provide hope or options to young people wanting to call this province home."

In a media release Thursday, the group said average student debt in Newfoundland and Labrador is roughly $20,000 for a four-year program at Memorial University, with the tuition freeze.

CFS-NL said that figure would "surely skyrocket" if tuition is increased, as it did in the 1990s. 

"Tuition fees rose 151 per cent, and soaring student debt combined with a crippled economy following the cod moratorium led to a surge in youth outmigration," the release reads. 

The release details the barriers of student debt, with CFS-NL saying it keeps young people from starting families or businesses, and buying homes or other big ticket items. The cost can also keep people from pursuing post-secondary education at all, it said.

"Financial barriers are also the single greatest barrier cited by young people who do not attend college or university," says the release.

Memorial University president Vianne Timmons said in a statement said she will review the report in detail. (CBC)

Report under review

The province's two largest post-secondary institutions are still reviewing the report. 

In a statement Thursday, MUN president Vianne Timmons said the review was "grounded in a consultative process that gave students, parents, faculty, alumni and interested Newfoundlanders and Labradorians the chance to share their opinions on the future of post-secondary education in Newfoundland and Labrador."

Timmons said she appreciates the work of the committee members and those who took the time to share their thoughts, and will be reviewing the recommendations in detail.

Neither Timmons nor officials from the College of the North Atlantic were available for interviews. CNA issued its own statement saying officials were "eager" to examine the recommendations put forward. 

"Post-secondary education remains a vital component in the economic prosperity of this province. Our students are our top priority, as we continue to train and educate Newfoundland and Labrador's future workforce," the statement reads. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Terry Roberts

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