Nfld. & Labrador

Grad school applications spike at MUN, despite rising tuition fees

Despite an impending tuition fee increase, applications for graduate programs at Memorial University have increased by nearly eight per cent this year.
Graduate student tuition fees at MUN are set to increase by 30 per cent in September, but applicant numbers are still on the rise. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Despite an impending tuition fee increase, applications for graduate programs at Memorial University have increased by nearly eight per cent this year.

MUN received 338 more grad school applications in the fall of 2015 than in the fall of 2014 —a 7.8 per cent spike.

We were wondering if it would make an impact or not and it obviously hasn't.- Faye Murrin, Dean of Graduate Studies

This increase comes after MUN's controversial decision to raise graduate student tuition fees by 30 per cent starting in September 2016, following post-secondary cutbacks in the provincial budget.

Student groups protested the tuition hikes, saying it would make life difficult for already-struggling students and hurt enrolment at the university.

However, Dean of Graduate Studies Faye Murrin said with the substantial increase in applications, enrolment should be higher than ever next year.

"We were wondering if it would make an impact or not and it obviously hasn't. I think it goes back to the complexity of why graduate students make the decisions they make," she said.

"Really, for an extra 30 per cent of a very low tuition, that's not a bad deal. It seems at least in this round that that tuition increase hadn't negatively impacted our enrolment, but again it's difficult to say because we don't have something else to compare it to."

Growing grad students a trend at MUN

Murrin said graduate students look at more than just tuition when choosing a program, and that Memorial's tuition fees are still the lowest in Canada outside of Quebec.

Faye Murrin, MUN's dean of graduate studies, said that she would be "very surprised" if grad student enrollment at MUN didn't increase next year. (Submitted by Faye Murrin)

The number of graduate students has been steadily increasing at Memorial over the past decade, as the university has been aggressively recruiting Masters and PhD candidates from around the world.

Murrin said she's not sure why the increase was so substantial this year, but that it may have to do with expanding programs and a faltering economy.

We'd be very surprised if come September we didn't have a higher enrolment than last year.- Faye Murrin, Dean of Graduate Studies

"Sometime you can track enrolment in universities with the economics of what's going on, and right now of course with the downturn in the economy there's not quite as many jobs out there as there have been," she said.

While not all grad school applicants will actually end up at Memorial, Murrin said there's a strong correlation between application numbers and enrolment.

'It probably won't be eight per cent, maybe it'll be closer to three or four or maybe even five percent, but it's definitely in that direction," she said.

"We'd be very surprised if come September we didn't have a higher enrolment than last year."

'Too soon to judge,' says Grad Student Union

Hesam Hassan Nejad of the MUN Graduate Student Union said he still thinks the increase in tuition will take a toll on enrolment.

He said that many prospective international students may not be aware of how much tuition is rising.

"It seems that people who are coming to Memorial do not know about this very recent tuition fee increase, and maybe if they knew there wouldn't be so much interest ... Many people just apply to a couple of universities and see what their chances are," he said.

Students protested tuition fee hikes for graduate students and international students in July, saying an increase in cost would hurt struggling students and lead to decreased enrollment. Although the university did not increase tuition for international undergrad student, it did raise fees for graduate students by 30 per cent. (Laura Howells/CBC)

"I think it's too soon to judge. Let's wait and see how the tuition fee increase might affect the number of people enrolling at Memorial, not just applying."

Nejad also said that current students are still extremely concerned about the upcoming fee hikes.

Undergrad enrolment declining

Meanwhile, the 2015 President's Report showed that undergraduate enrolment at MUN dropped by 1.6  per cent last year.

Noreen Golfman, provost and vice president (academic), said the drop in is likely due to declining youth population in Newfoundland and Labrador.

After the Newfoundland and Labrador government cut roughly $20 million from MUN's base budget in 2015, the university proposed tuition fee hikes for graduate and international students, as well as an increase in residence fees.

While the university backtracked on raising international student tuition, officials said that if the budgetary situation was still bad in 2016, it would have to reconsider all options.

Premier Dwight Ball has said that while he supports a tuition fee freeze for undergrads from Newfoundland and Labrador, he is not committing to a freeze for those from outside the province.

About the Author

Laura Howells is a journalist from St. John's who is now working in Toronto and Hamilton. You can reach her at laura.howells@cbc.ca.

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