Labrador students feeling the heat as MUN tuition freeze ends, say community leaders
A ban on new construction projects is also hindering efforts to expand the university's presence in Labrador
Rising tuition and a temporary halt in expansion at Memorial University are making it more difficult for Labrador student to access education, say community leaders.
Memorial University recently announced it would more than double its tuition to $6,000 a year for undergraduate students, not including residence and other fees.
"That will actually have a very significant negative impact on Labradorians, young Labradorians wanting to go to school," said NDP MHA Jordan Brown in an interview with CBC Radio's Labrador Morning on Monday.
The provincial government and Memorial University have already announced financial support for lower income students, but Brown said those supports might not be enough for some Labrador families.
He said the higher cost of living in Labrador and the cost of travel to Memorial University's campuses in St. John's and Corner Brook mean that post-secondary education is already less accessible to Labrador students.
Brown is in favour of retaining the 22-year tuition freeze, saying it's important for the province's future.
"It may not fix our problems today, but in five, 10 years down the road, these people who got an education, who might have not been able to afford an education, are now participating in helping solve the problems of this province," he said.
Physical expansions halted
Expansion of Memorial University's presence in Labrador has also been put on indefinite hold after the provincial government temporarily banned the institution from new construction projects in the 2021 budget.
Brown said the ban also hinders future access to education for Labrador students, since they would have the option to go to school closer to home, at the Labrador Institute in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
"We're actually going to be sending more students from Labrador to the island instead of actually campusing them in Labrador," Brown said.
Last August, Memorial University established the School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies, the first degree-granting academic unit at its Labrador Institute, with the intention of eventually creating a full Labrador campus.
Now, plans for a new, physical campus will not be able to proceed until the ban is lifted.
"It's caused some challenges when we're looking at expanding to create an eventual Labrador campus," said Ashlee Cunsolo, dean of the School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies.
The university was also forced to halt plans to expand the Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems, a research hub focused on food production and innovation in Labrador.
Despite the temporary ban on physical expansion, Cunsolo said the Labrador Institute is rapidly expanding its undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as micro-credential and professional development opportunities.
She said the university is looking at establishing a diploma in child and youth care with an Indigenous and Northern perspective, health and education graduate programs, an arctic and subarctic studies undergraduate program and more.
Cunsolo hopes many of the new educational opportunities will be available by fall 2022.
The academic council for the School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies has voting representation from three Indigenous governments — the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut government, and the NunatuKavut community council — which is a first for Memorial University.
Cunsolo said the vision for the eventual Labrador campus is accessible, Indigenous-led and place-based post-secondary education.
"What we really see is a very vibrant, thriving campus that's open to everyone, that reflects the histories and cultures of Labrador, that celebrates people who they are and where they are."