Nfld. & Labrador

Charge what it's worth: Dean of business says low tuition not best for MUN or province

The dean of MUN's faculty of business administration says the university should charge what its programs are worth to generate badly needed revenue.

Wilfred Zerbe says raising tuition could bring in badly needed revenue

In May the university grappled with funding cuts from the province and decided to implement new fees instead of an across the board tuition hike. (CBC)

The Dean of Business Administration at Memorial University of Newfoundland says MUN should charge what its programs are worth instead of keeping tuition low. 

Wilfred Zerbe says the extra revenue could be used for things like infrastructure and that's not all.

Wilfred Zerbe is the head of the Faculty of Business Administration at Memorial University in St. John's. (Wilfred Zerbe/Twitter)

"You can put it back into the university, to improve programs to make sure we stay competitive. You can use it to defray the call on taxpayers to fund education and you could use it to defray the cost of tuition for local students," said Zerbe.

MUN's funding from the province has declined, its infrastructure is crumbling and its students pay the lowest tuition in the country, with the exception of Quebec.

The university's 2017/18 budget, passed in May, includes new fees for all students and a tuition hike for students from outside the province, starting in the fall of 2018.

Zerbe, who expressed his views during a convocation ceremony last Wednesday, said students in other parts of Canada are willing to pay much more for quality programs, which Memorial offers.

"It would be possible to charge what the market would accept for very good programs with very good supports and charge tuition that reflects that value. And charge that for all of our students. Then we create a system that allows us to provide a subsidy for local students where we want to promote access."

Zerbe told CBC News that taxpayers in the province are subsidizing students who get a great deal.

"We are charging very low tuition and that is benefiting every student at the university, including students who come from other parts of Canada who then go back to other parts of Canada.  Or students who come from other countries who go back to those other countries," Zerbe said.

Memorial University's infrastructure is aging and deteriorating and will cost in the range of half a billion dollars to repair. (Cec Haire/CBC)

Low tuition not always best option

Zerbe says the tuition freeze isn't helping the university's infrastructure and funding crunch. 

"At some point back in history a politician decided they would announce a freeze presumably to get elected and somehow we have hung on to that. And I'm not sure whether it serves the province, whether it's in the province's best interests anymore," Zerbe said. 

"If they [students] find value they'll come. If they don't find value they won't come. We don't need low tuition to attract students to a high quality university." added Zerbe.

MUN's budget town hall attracted a lot of attention as the university grappled with provincial funding cuts. (Memorial University)

And Zerbe said being known for having the lowest tuition isn't necessarily a good thing.

"We get inquiries from students who say 'tell me about the quality of your program?'  Because they equate quality with price. And they worry that when the price is so low the quality is also going to be low. We have to tell them about the generous support we get from government and our accreditation and all the things we do to make sure that we have high quality programs."