MUN will hike tuition in 2022, says university president

The 2021-22 Newfoundland and Labrador budget has spelled the end of the long-standing tuition freeze at Memorial University.

Financial aid promised for some N.L. students

Memorial University will see a tuition hike in 2022, according to president Vianne Timmons. (Paul Daly/CBC)

The latest Newfoundland and Labrador budget has spelled the end of the long-standing tuition freeze at Memorial University, with its president saying a hike will be coming in 2022. 

On Monday, Finance Minister Siobhan Coady announced during the budget speech that the $68 million it gives to MUN annually to maintain the tuition freeze will be phased out over five years, starting next year. 

With that cut coming, MUN president Vianne Timmons told CBC News, a hike is inevitable. 

"We know that in 2022 we're going to have to lift the tuition," she said.

The budget change comes on the heels of two recent reports, one from the premier's economic recovery team and one from an independent review of post-secondary schooling in the province, which both recommended lifting the freeze.

There will be no changes to tuition for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

"We'll be working over the next month to bring something to the board of regents for 2022," Timmons said.

A financial crunch

There will be provincial supports to help new undergraduate students from Newfoundland and Labrador facing higher tuition, with "expanded access to needs-based grants" in the works, said Coady.

MUN is also temporarily not allowed to expand its campus as the government works to give the university greater autonomy — a move that could affect its plans for its Labrador School of Arctic and Sub-Arctic Studies.

Since 2005, the provincial government has given $600 million to the university to prevent tuition hikes, according to Education Minister Tom Osborne. But as Newfoundland and Labrador faces down a fiscal crisis — the 2020-21 deficit is more than $1.6 billion — cutting funding for the university is part of its plan to balance the books.

"We cannot overlook that provincial investments in post-secondary institutions equate to more than $21,000 per full-time equivalent student," Coady said.

The Atlantic Canadian average is $11,900, and the Canadian average about $10,000, she said, with the province's operating grant to MUN 30 per cent higher than the national average.

Eduardo Araujo of MUN's Social Justice Co-op says the budget didn't mention international students. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

This year, however, the provincial government is still providing the university with the $68.4 million needed to maintain the tuition freeze. The budget also sets aside $304 million for MUN's core operating grant, its medical school, and infrastructure needs.

Timmons said MUN has lost about $11 million in revenue during the pandemic, and in the last five years its workforce has been reduced by 10 per cent.

"I know and recognize the fiscal challenge this province is in. It would be irresponsible of me not to. We've been shown that evidence of the challenge. We need both to get more revenue and to get more efficiencies as we go forward," she said. 

"I would rather work as a partner with government to get through this challenging time than to oppose government. There are some good things in this budget."

But with the province allowing MUN to stand on its own feet, Timmons said, the university will be more flexible and not so dependent on government.

Timmons said she expects there will be pushback from students, adding that's part of a student's role. 

Tough on students

Some say ending the tuition freeze will create barriers for prospective students. 

Eduardo Araujo of MUN's Social Justice Co-op told CBC News the budget report didn't mention international students. Araujo, who is from Brazil, came to St. John's two years ago to study naval architecture at the Marine Institute. 

"If you want to bring immigrants here, that will be an aspect that will not be taken in place. And not only that, you don't realize that, for instance public transport, they do not mention at all in the budget report," he said. 

"If you want to make Newfoundland home for over 5,100 immigrants every year, you're missing out on this aspect."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jeremy Eaton